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Governor Puts Moratorium On Pennsylvania's Death Penalty

Gov. Tom Wolf has declared a moratorium on the death penalty in Pennsylvania, taking a stance that he had embraced during his successful campaign to unseat incumbent Tom Corbett. Wolf, a Democrat, was sworn in last month.

From Philadelphia, NPR's Jeff Brady reports:

"Wolf says the moratorium will remain in effect until after he has received and reviewed a task force's report on capital punishment. The purpose of the report is to examine a variety of questions surrounding the death penalty, including how it's carried out, whether it's constitutional and if it reduces crime.

"There are 186 inmates on death row in Pennsylvania. Wolf says he'll issue temporary reprieves for each as their executions are scheduled, until concerns raised by the report are addressed."

In a statement released Friday, Wolf said the moratorium follows "significant consideration and reflection" about what he called "a flawed system." He added that current prison conditions for those on death row will not change.

From the statement:

"This moratorium is in no way an expression of sympathy for the guilty on death row, all of whom have been convicted of committing heinous crimes. This decision is based on a flawed system that has been proven to be an endless cycle of court proceedings as well as ineffective, unjust, and expensive. Since the reinstatement of the death penalty, 150 people have been exonerated from death row nationwide, including six men in Pennsylvania."

The governor's office also released two statements supporting his decision — one from former U.S. Court of Appeals judge and prosecutor Timothy K. Lewis, and another from Archbishop Charles J. Chaput.

Saying that the governor's aides had asked him to look into the death penalty issue last December, Lewis wrote in part, "At a minimum, we must take a step back to examine the effectiveness of a system fraught with racial disparity, constant reversals, and the infinite warehousing of prisoners who await a punishment that hasn't been imposed in our State in 15 years."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.

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