By Kathleen Lucas, Director of Pennsylvanians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty.
On February 13th, Governor Tom Wolf delivered on his campaign promise and declared an official moratorium on executions in Pennsylvania. What a delightful Valentine’s Day gift! In his announcement, he cited many of the problems with our broken system, including the possibility of executing an innocent person, the terrible toll the whole process has on family members, the extra cost which is incurred when prosecutors decide to seek the death penalty and the ugly, overshadowing specter of racism. All of our major newspapers have editorialized in support of the moratorium and many of them have called for complete abolition. They have also published letters to the editor and op-eds in which victims’ families, law enforcement officials, and faith leaders call for an end to the death penalty. In one such letter, PADP board member Marlene Lang whose father was murdered when she was a child wrote, “To presume all families of murder victims are one mad pack seeking revenge is an affront to me and many others who actually stand in the painful place that Kearney (a local district attorney) claims to understand.”
It’s also noteworthy that ALL of the candidates in the Democratic gubernatorial race publicly supported a moratorium during their campaigns. Wolf’s landslide victory demonstrates that the death penalty is not the “third rail” in politics and that identifying the many flaws in the system doesn’t get in the way of being elected. We are grateful that Governor Wolf has taken this big step in the right direction. On the same day that Wolf announced the moratorium, our long-time ally in the senate introduced a bill calling for the end of the death penalty.
But wait, there’s more! Pope Francis will be coming to Philadelphia in September for the World Meeting of Families. He has proclaimed multiple times that the use of capital punishment must end. We are eager to hear him deliver that message in the City of Brotherly Love where Pennsylvanians will hear it loud and clear. The message would be significant for all of Pennsylvania’s 8 million self-described religious adherents, of which 3.4 million are Catholic. Our great friends at the Catholics Mobilizing Network will be present at this event along with the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference.
And there is more still. The bi-partisan death penalty study commission is almost finished with data gathering and will soon begin writing its report and making recommendations. The necessity for an unbiased study has been clear for decades. The American Bar Association, as well as other highly respected organizations, have studied our system and already pointed out some of the many systemic problems with state-sponsored killing. We are eager to see the results of this current study.
Our allies in Pennsylvania and at the national level have generously stepped forward to help us during this critical time. We will forever be grateful for their wisdom and support. It feels great to be part of this dedicated and winning team. Thank you all for standing with us.