The state’s Democratic governor, Josh Shapiro, said Thursday that no one will be put to death while he is in office. He also asked the state’s lawmakers to get rid of the death penalty.
Shapiro was sworn in as governor last month. He has said that he will not sign execution warrants and will use his power as governor to stop the execution of any inmate who is scheduled to die.
In doing so, he is using a power that his predecessor, Gov. Tom Wolf, used for eight years to stop the death penalty from being used in a state where it was rarely used.
Shapiro went even further and asked lawmakers to get rid of the death penalty, which he said was unfair and could not be changed.
Shapiro said in a news conference at Mosaic Community Church in Philadelphia –
“Today, I am respectfully calling on the General Assembly to work with me to abolish the death penalty once and for all here in Pennsylvania.”
The state, he said –
“should not be in the business of putting people to death.”
Shapiro, Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney, and three Democratic lawmakers from Philadelphia, Sens. Vincent Hughes, Nikil Saval, and Rep. Rick Krajewski, all backed getting rid of the death penalty, but caucus leaders were not sure what to do.
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In a statement, the office of House Majority Leader Joanna McClinton, D-Philadelphia, said that Democrats have long supported criminal justice reform and called Shapiro’s approach to the issue “encouraging and thoughtful.”
A spokesperson for her said that the House Democrats are excited to work with the administration to make these criminal justice reforms more widespread.
In a statement, Senate Majority Leader Joe Pittman, R-Indiana, said that protecting society and making changes to the criminal justice system are two of the Senate Republicans’ top priorities.
But, he said, any change must take into account what police and the families of murder victims think. He said –
“Without question, the legal and ethical aspects of the death penalty warrant careful examination before being used.”
Shapiro said that the first order to kill someone came to his desk last week. The Death Penalty Information Center, a non-profit group, says that 27 states have laws that allow the death penalty, but the governors of Pennsylvania, California, and Oregon have put a stop to it.
Shapiro said he was morally against the death penalty when he ran for governor last year. However, when he ran for attorney general in 2016, he said he was for the death penalty in the worst cases.
Shapiro is changing his mind because the death penalty is losing support in the country as a whole. From 2015 until last month, when Wolf was governor, eight more people were put to death by judges. In the meantime, Wolf gave eight people who were supposed to be killed a chance to live.
Wolf, a Democrat, said he would keep the reprieves in place until lawmakers fixed the unfair way the death penalty was being used. But lawmakers never did, so Wolf’s reprieves are still in place.
Wolf’s use of reprieves was upheld by the state Supreme Court in a case brought by county prosecutors. The prosecutors said that Wolf was breaking the law by making a tool that was meant to be temporary into something that could be used forever.
The Department of Corrections says that there are 101 people on Pennsylvania’s death row, which is getting smaller. Since the state brought back the death penalty in 1976, only three people have been put to death. Until now, courts and now governors have stopped every other death sentence.
All three of the men who were put to death gave up their right to appeal on their own. The last time the state put someone to death was in 1999.