State House Sound Bites

Capitol reporter Mary Wilson covers Pennsylvania politics and issues at the Pennsylvania state capitol.

Death penalty moratorium goes to PA Supreme Court as lawmakers plan review

Written by Mary Wilson, Capitol Bureau Chief | Mar 4, 2015 4:40 PM
Thumbnail image for executionSCIrockview.jpg

Photo by ACLU legal brief, from www.portal.state.pa.us


As a legal challenge to Governor Tom Wolf's moratorium on the death penalty advances, state lawmakers are planning their own review of the capital sentencing system.

The state Supreme Court has agreed to hear arguments over whether the governor can issue reprieves in each death penalty case, effectively imposing a moratorium on state executions.

Wolf announced the moratorium last month, citing concerns over the costs and flaws of the capital sentencing system. Law enforcement groups have protested, saying the governor can't unilaterally halt the death penalty. The Philadelphia district attorney filed suit over the governor's first reprieve, granted to Terrance Williams, sentenced to death for killing a man in 1984.

"I envision it's going to be a bit of a constitutional showdown," said Rep. Mike Vereb (R-Montgomery) of the pending arguments before the Supreme Court. He opposes Wolf's moratorium. On Wednesday, Vereb joined other House Republicans and victims' families to call on Wolf to reverse the moratorium - or at least stop bypassing the Legislature.

"Put a proposal up, and let's vote it, and then the majority of the House and Senate can send the bill to the governor," said Vereb. "I don't see that happening, but that is certainly the out."

Tricia Wertz, a Berks County resident whose husband was killed while working as a police officer, said the administration of the death penalty is already painful enough for victims' families.

"The death penalty definitely needs to be looked at," said Wertz, "but not through a moratorium, and not for those sitting on death row."

A House committee is planning hearings on the death penalty at the end of the month. The testimony will build on numerous studies that have been conducted over the past several years, as well as the work of another panel still examining the system. Wolf said his moratorium would last at least until that panel issues its recommendations.

Published in State House Sound Bites

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