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Pennsylvania

Pa. not ready to abandon lethal injections

| Sunday, Sept. 28, 2014, 9:00 p.m.

Pennsylvania can't find the drugs necessary to execute a convicted murderer, but officials in Pennsylvania aren't ready to look at alternatives to lethal injection for the 184 inmates who sit on death row.

Some states have proposed returning to methods such as firing squads as European drug manufacturers make it difficult to obtain the execution drugs after three botched attempts this year with them.

“When you look at other states, I think they're much more invested in the death penalty than we are,” said Kathleen Lucas, executive director of Pennsylvanians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, which advocates life in prison without parole.

Gov. Tom Corbett on Sept. 16 signed a temporary reprieve for death row inmate Hubert Michael Jr. in part because manufacturers stopped selling their drugs to states that used them in executions. Michael was sentenced to death for the 1994 murder of Trista Eng, 16, in York County. A federal appellate court on Friday denied his appeal, clearing a key path to his execution.

Joshua Maus, spokesman for the governor's Office of General Counsel, said Corbett will sign a death warrant if the state gets the drugs. By law, the execution must be within 60 days of his signing.

Corbett, who has signed 35 death warrants since taking office in 2011 — all of which courts have stayed — has said he is “committed” to putting Michael to death. Democratic gubernatorial candidate Tom Wolf said he would put a moratorium on the death penalty until concerns are addressed about putting innocent people to death.

Lethal injection has been the sole method of execution in Pennsylvania since 1990, when Gov. Robert P. Casey signed legislation halting use of the electric chair. Since then, the state executed three men, all of whom suspended their legal appeals.

Sen. Daylin Leach, D-Montgomery County, the minority chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, has for the past three years introduced legislation to abolish the death penalty. None of the bills received a committee vote.

Pennsylvania's last execution occurred in 1999, but the death penalty costs the state millions of dollars each year on appeals, he said. A task force and committee is studying capital punishment and its costs in Pennsylvania.

No legislation is pending in Pennsylvania to change execution methods. Doing so, said Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center in Washington, “would probably hasten the end of the death penalty.”

“States left those methods behind voluntarily, and they adopted lethal injection because there were problems with them,” Dieter said.

Legislators could try to change the ingredients of the three-drug cocktail, experts said.

Nationwide, 39 people were executed last year, down from 98 in 1999. Experts said the decrease reflects waning support for the death penalty. Three botched executions since Jan. 1 in Ohio, Arizona and Oklahoma have increased opposition to it, they said.

Changing the method of execution, Lucas said, “would be litigated until the cows come home,” as would attempts to use non-regulated drug formulas.

Adam Brandolph is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach him at 412-391-0927 or abrandolph@tribweb.com.

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