Pennsylvania district attorneys square off against death penalty opponents

Under Governor Tom Wolf, Pennsylvania has a moratorium on the death penalty. However, it is still technically legal. (WITF, file)

Under Governor Tom Wolf, Pennsylvania has a moratorium on the death penalty. However, it is still technically legal. (WITF, file)

Pennsylvania’s District Attorneys Association is criticizing a recently released study that gives the commonwealth a number of recommendations to improve how it handles its death penalty — including providing public funding for indigent defense and additional considerations for mentally ill offenders.

The report, from the Joint State Government Commission, was seven years in the making.

A number of death penalty opponents have said they believe it vindicates their concerns, while others called it inconclusive.

Now, the commonwealth’s association of prosecutors has elaborated on its initial trepidation about the report — saying it doesn’t really cover new ground.

They also said it’s biased against the death penalty — a point commission member and state Sen. Daylin Leach, D-Montgomery, disputed.

“In fact, the four senators involved — me, Rafferty, Greenleaf, and Boscola — are split. I am against the death penalty, Boscola and Rafferty are for it, and Stewart is sort of on the fence, ambivalent about it,” Leach said.

The other three senators involved — Lisa Boscola, John Rafferty, and Stewart Greenleaf — are a Democrat and two Republicans, respectively.

The district attorneys said, instead of saving money by getting rid of the death penalty, the state should achieve that end by getting rid of “frivolous” appeals in the adjudication process.

Leach called the assertion a disturbing proposition.

“I don’t understand. Given that close to 100 percent of death penalty cases are at least stayed, and in many cases reversed, what part of due process to they feel comfortable getting rid of?” he said.

In the wake of the report, Greenleaf, R-Montgomery, has started working on a number of bills to address the report’s concerns.

They include changing how death penalty juries are formed and making it easier to get clemency.

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