Saturday, January 15, 2011

Justice: Governor Rendell Urges General Assembly to Review Effectiveness of Pennsylvania's Death Penalty - Signs 119th Execution Warrant

In one of his final acts as governor, Governor Edward G. Rendell today wrote to the General Assembly to urge legislators to review the effectiveness of Pennsylvania's death penalty.

Earlier today, the Governor signed six execution warrants, bringing to 119 the number of warrants he has signed during his eight years in office. No executions were carried out during his time as governor.

The text of the Governor's letter follows:

To Members of the Pennsylvania General Assembly:

As of this date, I have signed 119 execution warrants since taking office in January 2003, and not one execution has been carried out during the last eight years. In fact, none are even close to having a final date set. The only executions carried out since the death penalty was reinstated in Pennsylvania in the late 1970s were two in 1995 and one in 1999, and those three men – Keith Zettlemoyer, Leon Moser, and Gary Heidnik – had waived their appeals and asked that their sentence be carried out.

There are inmates on death row today who were convicted and sentenced to death during my tenure as District Attorney of Philadelphia County (1978-1986). As a former District Attorney and as a death penalty supporter, I believe the death penalty can be a deterrent – but only when it is carried out relatively expeditiously. Of course, great care must be taken to ensure the guilt of the offender, and every advance in science and technology should be made available to the defendant. However, a 15-, 20-, or 25-year lapse between imposition of a death sentence and the actual execution is no deterrent. In the public's eye, the crime and the victim may be long forgotten. To criminals on the street, our death penalty is simply not a reality.

The time lapse between conviction and execution generally results from capital defendants' efforts to exhaust every legal challenge to their conviction and death sentence that is available to them under state and federal law. That is the way it should be; every meritorious issue must be raised and addressed. While Congress and this body have enacted laws to help curtail and streamline the appellate process in capital cases, the length of time between the imposition of the sentence and actual execution, if it occurs at all, can be decades and is still too long. Victims' survivors are frustrated; the police are frustrated. The lengthy appeals process not only costs taxpayers substantial money, but it also robs the victims' families and friends of peace of mind, and they get no closure.

Therefore, it seems to me that the time has come to re-examine the efficacy of the death penalty under these circumstances. I would ask you to explore whether there can be any additional steps taken that allow for a thorough and exhaustive review of the facts and the law in each case, but that would significantly shorten the time between offense and carrying out the sentence. If you conclude that there is no avenue to achieve this, then I ask you to examine the merits of continuing to have the death penalty on the books – as opposed to the certainty of a life sentence without any chance of parole, pardon or commutation. You should also explore whether creating that type of life sentence would require a Constitutional amendment.


Edward G. Rendell, Governor

Source: Pennsylvania Office of the Governor