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Pa. moves legislation to end death penalty

  • Ben Wasserstein/WITF
The Capitol building in Harrisburg on Oct. 12, 2023.

 Jeremy Long / WITF

The Capitol building in Harrisburg on Oct. 12, 2023.

Pennsylvania is among 27 states that allow the death penalty, but some state representatives are trying to change that.

Legislation introduced by Rep. Christopher Rabb, D-Philadelphia calling for the end of the practice was voted out of committee Tuesday.

The state has executed three people since 1976, when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of the death penalty. None has been carried out since 1999.

Former Gov. Tom Wolf issued a moratorium on executions in 2015 which Gov. Josh Shapiro has continued. Data on the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections’ website shows 98 people on death row.

Rabb said the death penalty does not create safer communities.

“We have to protect our communities from violent elements in our society,” he said. “But that does not necessitate killing them.”

Prisons should be correctional and keep violent members of society away from the general population, Rabb said.

“It’s supposed to be a safeguard, especially for that subset of humanity disinterested or incapable of redemption,” he said.

Joining Rabb was Herman Lindsey, who spent three years on death row in Florida before being exonerated in 2009.

He spoke of his time on death row and the trauma that came from it.

“As you sit in that cell, one of the things about that is that when you’re in that position, you feel like nobody cares about you,” he said. “You don’t have faith in the justice system or any kind of system because that’s the system that put you there.”

The bill will go before the Democratic-controlled house for a floor vote. Rabb said he already has several Republican members who will join him to pass the legislation.

In the Senate, Sens. Katie Muth, D-Berks, and Sharif Street, D-Philadelphia, introduced a companion bill.

In February, Gov. Josh Shapiro announced he would not issue any warrants for executions during his term, and called on the General Assembly to abolish the practice.

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