Pennsylvania high court asked to throw out death penalty | TribLIVE.com
Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania high court asked to throw out death penalty

Associated Press
1659946_web1_ptr-supremecourt2
Sean Stipp | Tribune-Review
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court was asked Wednesday to outlaw the death penalty because of what critics call the cruel and arbitrary way it’s applied to poor and black defendants.
1659946_web1_1659946-bc23e100246e482483fff88e102ee777
AP
A crowd waits to enter the Pennsylvania Supreme Court at City Hall in Philadelphia, Wednesday, Sept. 11, 2019. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court is set to consider whether the death penalty amounts to cruel, arbitrary punishment that’s too often reserved for black and poor defendants.
1659946_web1_1659946-13aec85ae99f457699067c7683b91fc9
AP
In this Thursday, Sept. 5, 2019, photo, Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner speaks outside the federal courthouse in Philadelphia. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court on Wednesday, Sept. 11, 2019, will consider whether the state’s death penalty statute amounts to cruel, arbitrary punishment that’s too often reserved for black and poor defendants. Krasner opposes capital punishment and is a driving force behind the court challenge.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court was asked Wednesday to outlaw the death penalty because of what critics call the cruel and arbitrary way it’s applied to poor and black defendants.

More than half of the 441 death sentences handed down since the death penalty was reinstated in the late 1970s have been deemed flawed and overturned, Assistant Federal Defender Timothy Kane told the court. Among the 155 from Philadelphia, the reversal rate is 72%.

“The reliability of the system as a whole is cruel … and the systemic problems affect every case,” Kane argued before an overflow crowd at Philadelphia City Hall.

Most of the time, the sentence or verdict was reversed on appeal because of the work of court-appointed lawyers working with limited public funds, he said.

In the two test cases involved in the unusual “King’s Bench” petition presented to the Supreme Court, transcripts of the defense portion of their sentencing hearings run to just 14 pages combined.

Justice Debra Todd asked why the issue was urgent, given the moratorium on executions that Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf imposed after taking office in 2015. A lawyer for Attorney General Josh Shapiro, who opposed the petition, said it was not. Shapiro’s office said that any amendments to the death penalty should be decided by the state Legislature.

“The questions the report raises are important, and should be thoroughly considered and resolved, by the General Assembly,” Shapiro’s office said in its brief.

However, Kane said the Supreme Court needs to step in given the failure of lawmakers to act on a troubling, bipartisan review completed last year. He asked the court to declare the state statute unconstitutional and convert the sentences of 137 men on death row to life imprisonment. There are no women on death row in Pennsylvania.

Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner, who won election in 2015 on an anti-death penalty platform, said that 82% of the current death row inmates from Philadelphia are black.

Statewide, just under half of the current death row inmates in Pennsylvania are black, compared to 11% of state residents. The death penalty remains legal in 29 U.S. states, although four of those states, including Pennsylvania, have a moratorium on executions.

The average appeal in Pennsylvania takes 17 years, straining the resources of the court system, critic said.

The five Democrats and two Republicans on the state Supreme Court did not indicate when they would rule.

The test case involves two men sentenced to death row in the 1990s — Jermont Cox of Philadelphia and Kevin Marinelli of Northumberland County. Relatives of Marinelli’s victim, who was killed over a stereo during a 1994 home invasion robbery, oppose the appeal.

Only three people have been executed in Pennsylvania since capital punishment was reinstated in 1978, the last of them in 1999.

The death penalty remains legal in 29 U.S. states, although at least four of those states, including Pennsylvania, have a moratorium on executions.

Categories: News | Pennsylvania | Top Stories
TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.