Gov. Tom Wolf declares moratorium on the death penalty in Pa.

     Governor Tom Wolf (Emma Lee/WHYY)

    Governor Tom Wolf (Emma Lee/WHYY)

    Gov. Tom Wolf declared a moratorium Friday on the death penalty in Pennsylvania.

    “This decision is based on a flawed system that has been proven to be an endless cycle of court proceedings as well as ineffective, unjust, and expensive,” said Wolf in a statement released Friday.

    Since the reinstatement of the death penalty, 150 people have been exonerated from death row nationwide, including six men in Pennsylvania.

    This morning’s decision by Wolf gives temporary reprieve to inmate Terrance Williams, who was scheduled to be executed on March 4, 2015.

    • WHYY thanks our sponsors — become a WHYY sponsor

    According to the statement Wolf will grant a reprieve, not a commutation, in future cases where an execution for a death row inmate is scheduled, though their conditions and confinement will not change.

    This action potentially halts the process for 186 prisoners who’ve received a death sentence, PennLive reports.

    Dauphin County District Attorney Ed Marsico said the state prosecutors association could fight Wolf’s reprieves in court.

    “It’s a real slap in the face to the victims’ families in these cases, the police who have worked so hard to solve these crimes and bring these worst of the worst killers to justice.”

    In nearly 40 years, Pennsylvania governors have signed more than 400 death warrants, but have executed just three people, all of whom voluntarily gave up their appeals.

    Support for Governor’s move

    Republican state Senator Stewart Greenleaf of Montgomery County said it’s fitting there’s a moratorium since a task force is examining the death penalty right now.

    “The other reason why we need it is that we have had some DNA exonerations. At least one of those individuals was on death row.”

    Governor Wolf said he looks forward to the recommendations of the legislative task force studying capital punishment in Pennsylvania.

    Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput released a statement as well.

    “I’m very grateful to Governor Wolf for choosing to take a deeper look into these studies and I pray we can find a better way to punish those who are guilty of these crimes,” he said. “Turning away from capital punishment does not diminish our support for the families of murder victims. They bear a terrible burden of grief and they rightly demand justice. But killing the guilty does not honor the dead nor does it ennoble the living. When we take a guilty person’s life we only add to the violence in an already violent culture and we demean our own dignity in the process.”

    Pennsylvania State Senator Daylin Leach also reacted to the Governor’s decree, reintroducing a bill to abolish the state’s death penalty. This is the fourth session in a row that Leach has introduced the bill.

    “Today Governor Wolf showed extraordinary vision, humanity and courage in issuing a moratorium on Pennsylvania’s death penalty,” Leach said in a statement. “As the author of the legislation that would abolish the death penalty in Pennsylvania, I am extremely grateful that our Governor will stop spending our tax dollars to, in the words of former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun, tinker with the machinery of death.”

    According to his statement, recent studies show that capital murder cases costs the taxpayers $2 to $3 million more than a non-capital murder case.

    Mary Wilson contributed to this report.

    WHYY is your source for fact-based, in-depth journalism and information. As a nonprofit organization, we rely on financial support from readers like you. Please give today.

    Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

    Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal