19 February 2023 :
Gov. Josh Shapiro blocks death penalty, calls for repeal. The state has already been in a moratorium since 2015
Today at a press conference the newly elected Democratic governor said he will extend an execution moratorium put in place by his predecessor, Gov. Tom Wolf, as he calls on lawmakers to abolish the state’s death penalty “once and for all.”
“The Commonwealth shouldn’t be in the business of putting people to death. Period. I believe that in my heart,” he said in a speech Thursday. “This is a fundamental statement of morality. Of what’s right and wrong. And I believe Pennsylvania must be on the right side of this issue.”
Wolf, a Democrat, had said he would continue the reprieves until lawmakers addressed inequities in the use of the death penalty, but lawmakers never did and Wolf’s reprieves remain in effect.
Wolf’s use of reprieves was upheld by the state Supreme Court in a legal challenge brought by county prosecutors, who argued that Wolf was unconstitutionally turning what had been intended to be a temporary tool into a permanent one.
Shapiro, state attorney general from 2017 until last month, admitted his position on the subject has “evolved” over the years. Despite supporting the death penalty for heinous crimes throughout his career, he could never bring himself to seek capital punishment when serving as the state’s top prosecutor.
Then, he said, he met with the families of 11 victims slain during the Tree of Life Synagogue massacre near Pittsburgh in 2018. They encouraged him to reject his knee-jerk support for the death penalty.
“He should spend the rest of his life in prison they said, but the state should not take his life as punishment for him taking the lives of their loved ones,” Shapiro said. “That moved me and that’s stayed with me.”
Between 1978 and 2015, Pennsylvania spent an estimated $816 million to execute three inmates out of more than 400 sentenced to capital punishment, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.
As of 2023, an additional 11 men on death row have been exonerated and more than half have been resentenced.
Pennsylvania has 101 people on its shrinking death row, according to statistics from the Department of Corrections.
The state has executed three people since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976.
All 3 men who were executed gave up on their appeals voluntarily.
The state’s most recent execution took place in 1999.