Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

State Supreme Court to Take Death Penalty Moratorium Case Philadelphia Da Calls Governor's Actions Lawless and Unconstitutional

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

State Supreme Court to Take Death Penalty Moratorium Case Philadelphia Da Calls Governor's Actions Lawless and Unconstitutional

Article excerpt

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court on Tuesday agreed to take a case filed by the Philadelphia district attorney's office challenging Gov. Tom Wolf's moratorium implemented last month on capital punishment in the state.

District Attorney R. Seth Williams asked the court to take up the matter involving a defendant named Terrance Williams, who was scheduled for lethal injection today.

Although Seth Williams asked that the court take the case on an expedited basis, the court refused, and it will be heard on a standard calendar, which means that both sides will file briefs and replies over the next several months, and oral argument will be scheduled at a date in the future.

It will probably be more than a year before any decision is reached, and University of Pittsburgh law professor John Burkoff said it could be even longer if the court decides it wants two new justices, who will be elected later this year, to consider the case as well.

Mr. Wolf announced on Feb. 13 that he was instituting a moratorium on the death penalty in Pennsylvania, saying that it was not an "expression of sympathy for the guilty on death row, all of whom have been convicted of committing heinous crimes." Instead, he continued, it was "based on a flawed system that has been proven to be an endless cycle of court proceedings as well as ineffective, unjust and expensive."

He cited nationwide statistics that show 150 people have been exonerated from death row, including six in Pennsylvania.

A bipartisan commission was asked in 2011 to review the effectiveness of capital punishment in Pennsylvania, and Mr. Wolf said the moratorium will be in place until recommendations and concerns from that are addressed.

Because of the governor's actions, Terrance Williams, who was sentenced to death for killing a man with a tire iron on June 11, 1984, received a temporary reprieve from his execution warrant, signed by former Gov. Tom Corbett.

But in his filing, Seth Williams argues that Mr. Wolf's action was lawless and unconstitutional.

"Merely characterizing conduct by the governor as a reprieve does not make it so," the prosecutor's filing said. …

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