Pennsylvania began carrying out executions in the early 1600’s in the form of public hangings. In 1834, Pennsylvania became the first state in the U.S. to outlaw public executions and move the gallows to county prisons. In 1913, the state’s capital punishment statute was amended to bring executions under the administration of the state rather than individual counties, and also changed the method of execution to electrocution. Between 1915 and 1962, there were 350 executions in Pennsylvania, including two women. The last inmate executed by means of the electric chair was in 1962. Pennsylvania passed a law in 1990 that once again changed the method of execution from elecrocution to lethal injection, the current means of execution. Prior to 1976, Pennsylvania carried out 1,040 executions, the third highest number of any state.
In Commonwealth v. Bradley (1972), the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania ruled the death penalty sentencing procedures unconstitutional. Death row was emptied and sentences were commuted to life. In 1974, overriding Governor Shapp’s veto, the legislature reenacted the death penalty, but this law was also found unconstitutional in 1977. In 1978, a revised version of the death penalty statute was passed, reinstating the death penalty in Pennsylvania.
Only three executions have actually been carried out since reinstatement in 1974, despite the size of the state’s death row, which is the fourth largest in the nation.
In 2011, the state legislature passed SB 6, initiating a study of the death penalty in Pennsylvania. The bill is to be implemented in 2012.
CMN State Spotlight – March 2015
“On February 13th, Governor Tom Wolf delivered on his campaign promise and declared an official moratorium on executions in Pennsylvania.”
CMN State Spotlight – July 2012
“The Pennsylvania Senate, recognizing this disparity in convicts, commissioned a bipartisan task force and advisory committee to conduct a study of the state’s death penalty.”