Friday, October 28, 2011

Pennsylvania Examines Cost of the Death Penalty

State Senator Stewart Greenleaf, chairman of the state Senate Judiciary Committee, has commissioned a bipartisan task force to take a look at what the death peanlty has cost taxpayers over the last 40 years. Right now, there are no estimates.
The task force will also explore whether the death penalty is worth keeping. Governor Tom Corbett’s office has no position on the Greenleaf’s resolution.
Until it’s complete, an obvious question is emerging: If no one is actually dying, what’s wrong with Pennsylvania’s death penalty?

The Harrsiburgh Patriot-News took a detailed look at the death peanlty in Pennsylvania.  As I had recently written in an op-ed for the Philadelphia Inquirer--since the death penalty was reinstated in 1978, only three people on death row in Pennsylvania have actually died by lethal injection, and those three defendants basically signed their own death warrants by waiving their rights to appeal.
A much higher number, about 140 people, have been released from death row following successful appeals.
Some were found to be innocent. Most simply had their sentences commuted to life in prison. But in the meantime, taxpayers were footing the bill for their lengthy appeals, and by lengthy, we’re talking decades.

According to the Patriot News, those on both sides of this issue agree that Robert Dunham, a Harrisburg-based assistant federal defender, has the most accurate statistics on Pennsylvania death penalty cases.
His recordings show that 237 people have had their death penalty sentence overturned since 1978, but because he didn’t start researching them until the 1990s and the state keeps no records of these cases, he said it’s unclear what happened to about 75 of those defendants. He does know that about 15 defendants were sent back death row and are still there.
About 123 were resentenced to spend life in prison.
At least 12 people resentenced to less than life.
There were six complete exonerations — Nicholas Yarris and Harold Wilson, Jay Smith, William Nieves, Neil Ferber and Thomas Kimbell.  Kimbell was a Lawrence County case.  He was convicted of first degree murder and sentenced to death.  He was awarded a new trial and found not guilty.  He was not found innocent.
Another, Fred Thomas, got a new trial and died waiting for it.

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