Capital Punishment in Pennsylvania: a waste of time and money

From The Philadelphia Inquirer:

In Pa. and elsewhere, death penalty is dying a slow death

by Michaelle Bond, Staff Writer | Updated: April 11, 2016 — 1:07 AM EDT

The crime was horrific: LaQuanta Chapman fatally shot his teenage neighbor, then dismembered him with a chainsaw.

The Chester County District Attorney’s Office promised it would seek the death penalty – and it delivered.

Chapman was sent to death row in December 2012. But he remains very much alive, and two weeks ago the state Supreme Court reversed his death sentence, citing prosecutorial error.

Chapman is just the latest example of a death-row inmate spared execution.

In fact, no one has been executed in Pennsylvania since Philadelphia torturer-murderer Gary Heidnik in 1999. And he requested it. He is one of only three prisoners put to death since the reinstatement of the death penalty in 1976.

The Inquirer story doesn’t tell you the whole truth: of the three condemned men actually executed, all three voluntarily dropped their appeals. Since the reinstitution of capital punishment in the Keystone State, not one prisoner, not a single one, has been put to death against his wishes.

District Attorneys like the death penalty, because it makes them look tough on crime, but they all know that the odds that a capital sentence will actually be carried out are very low.

“Let’s face it, how many people actually get put to death?” said G. Terry Madonna of Franklin and Marshall College, calling the death penalty “virtually nonoperative” in Pennsylvania. “In many states, it’s a dead letter.”

Gov. Wolf last year imposed a moratorium on executions pending a bipartisan committee’s report on the commonwealth’s use of capital punishment. The report, more than two years overdue, is looking at costs, fairness, effectiveness, alternatives, public opinion, and other issues.

The committee, formed in 2011 during Gov. Tom Corbett’s administration, has been collecting data with Pennsylvania State University’s Justice Center for Research, which has just begun to analyze the information. The basis for the center’s death-penalty analysis will be 1,106 first-degree murder cases completed between 2000 and 2010, said Jeff Ulmer, a Pennsylvania State University professor working on the analysis.

The committee’s report should follow before the end of the year, said Glenn Pasewicz, executive director of the state commission that oversees the committee.

Read more here.

Governor Tom Wolfe (D-PA) may have imposed a moratorium, but it really doesn’t matter. His predecessor, Governor Tom Corbett (R-PA) signed 48 death warrants during his four year term, but not a single execution was carried out.

The death penalty is a waste of time and money: we spend gobs of extra money for a capital punishment case, and then spend millions more not only prosecuting through the condemned men’s various appeals, but also have to pay for their appeals, and still nobody is ever executed. What the death penalty means in Pennsylvania is that we house the condemned men differently, but we don’t actually execute them.

As for the “study” ordered by former Governor Corbett, in 2011, and due for report by the end of this year? How much did it cost the Commonwealth to tell us what I have been telling everybody, for free, for years and years? If the committee report, “more than two years overdue,” is considering “effectiveness” among other things, then there is only one possible conclusion: a system which sentences people to death but never actually executes anyone is as ineffective as it is possible to be; the efficiency rate is zero, zilch, nada.

Mr Wolfe will be our Governor for another 2½ years, and we already know that there will be no executions carried out for the remainder of his term. Then, even if he loses his re-election campaign, and is succeeded by a Republican who supports capital punishment, Pennsylvania, with a huge death row, will have gone from 1999 to 2019, twenty straight years, without executing anybody.

Well, you know what? My taxes are too high, and the Commonwealth is wasting money, at both the county and state levels, pursuing capital punishment when it is never carried out. Why should we waste taxpayers’ dollars for this? Why not admit that we will never execute anyone, and simply abolish capital punishment, period. That way the murderers will be sentenced to what they actually get, life in prison without parole.
Cross-posted on The First Street Journal.