Equal Justice

The crux of the death penalty isn’t who deserves to die, but whether we deserve to kill.

When Gov. Josh Shapiro recently announced a state moratorium on capital punishment, he was continuing a policy set by Gov. Wolf in 2015, and furthermore calling on our legislature to abolish it altogether. Showing support, State Senator Vincent Hughes and Mayor Jim Kenney stood with the governor during his press conference February 16th at West Philly’s Mosaic Community Church.

Two days later, Temple University police officer Christopher Fitzgerald was gunned down in cold blood by an 18 year-old car jacker from Bucks County. As the city mourned and processed this terrible event, a state senator from Cumberland County used the tragedy to ask the governor to reconsider his position. “It is my hope that Gov. Josh Shapiro will consider the lives of the men and women who serve and protect over the lives of those who murder,” Sen. Mike Regan wrote in an editorial for the York Daily Record, where he called for mandatory death sentences for the intentional killing of offices in the line of duty.

Does this guy have a point? Purple Blackwell of PQRadio1 followed up with Mayor Kenney to clarify where he stands on abolishing this controversial punishment that 42% of Pennsylvanians approve of – a minority, to be sure, but still. “Has the heinous murder of officer Christopher Fitzgerald changed your mind at all?” Purple asked the mayor at community ribbon cutting February 26.

He responded without hesitation:

No. No, I don’t think the state needs to act like a murderer by putting people to death. This young man, this evil person who killed Chris is going to spend 67 years in prison, and that’s a pretty good penalty. Look, the way I was raised, my religious background, only God can take a life. But this guy’s going to be locked up for good, and I think that serves as punishment.

Would it matter if you literally had video footage of the crime being committed? Or if the races were reversed? For many of us, this issue is not so simple — it’s hard sometimes to know what to believe. Here’s a brief rundown, then, of the death penalty in Pennsylvania (with some context).

  • PA has been executing criminals since colonial days. In 1834, we became the first state in the union to outlaw public executions.
  • The standard method of extermination was hanging until 1913, when we switched to the electric chair. We switched again to lethal injection in 1990.
  • Prior to 1976, PA carried out 1,040 executions, the third highest of any state. Since 1976, however, only 3 executions have been carried out on “volunteers” who requested this option over life imprisonment.
  • Though there has been a state moratorium on executions since 2015, courts still prosecute capital crimes and issue death warrants.
  • Until a lawsuit in 2019, death row inmates in Pennsylvania were held in permanent solitary confinement 24/7.
  • Judges are three times more likely to sentence Black defendants with capital punishment than white defendants in identical cases.
  • After legal representation, the second biggest determining factor in death sentence outcomes is whether the victim was white.
  • Decades of research fails to find any indication that the death penalty is a deterrent or effective public safety measure.
  • Studies have shown that murder rates, including murders of police officers, are consistently higher in states that have the death penalty, while states that abolished the death penalty have the lowest rates of police officers killed in the line of duty.
  • On average, a death sentence is ten times more costly than life imprisonment without parole.
  • Mental health experts estimate at least 20% of death row inmates today suffer serious mental illness and/or disabilities.
  • 35% of executions are botched or “visibly problematic” according to findings last year by the Death Penalty Information Center.
  • For every 8 people executed, one person on death row has been exonerated.
  • 11 people have been exonerated from Pennsylvania’s death row (some after they were executed).
  • PA’s last execution was during Ridge’s administration in 1999, when North Philadelphia serial killer and cannibal Gary Heidnik’s life was ended by lethal injection.

👉 Click on links for source information 👈

Learn More: Pennsylvanians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty is a local force for new penalty structures to replace a flawed system that’s unjust and expensive. Padp.org (follow on Facebook for video & updates).

Agree? Disagree? Please leave your comments below, or email editor@nwlocalpaper.com to send us your thoughts and questions. 

💜👑Purple Queen on the Scene 👀👀👀

Follow PQRADIO1’s boots-on-the-ground coverage, full of heart and founded in community @pqradio1.comlive. A partner in WHYY’s News & Information Community Exchange (N.I.C.E.).

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