Pennsylvanians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty

Murder Victims’ Families, Faith and Local Leaders Applaud Governor Wolf’s Decision to Declare a Moratorium on Executions

Today, murder victims’ families who support alternatives to the death penalty applauded the news that Governor Tom Wolf was placing a moratorium on all executions in the state of Pennsylvania. Faith and community leaders also heralded the announcement.

Rev. Walter Everett of Lewisburg, whose son Scott was murdered in 1987, responded, “Losing a loved one to murder tears apart the the lives of victims’ family members, but I’ve come to realize that the death penalty does very little to help victims’ families heal. For many victims’ families, the death penalty traps them in a decades-long cycle of uncertainty, court hearings, and waiting. By getting rid of the death penalty, we could free up millions of dollars that could be redirected to programs that will actually help victims’ families. I applaud Governor Wolf’s decision to halt executions until concerns about the fairness of the state’s death penalty system are addressed.”

Vicki Schieber, whose daughter Shannon was murdered in Philadelphia in 1998, shared, “As a mother of a child murdered in Pennsylvania, I strongly endorse the actions of the governor and I’m grateful that he is giving the death penalty the attention and close examination that it deserves.”

Megan Smith, whose father and stepmother were murdered in 2001 in Lancaster County, welcomed the news, “I applaud Governor Wolf for recognizing that Pennsylvania’s capital punishment system is broken in so many ways. It costs far more than imprisoning murderers for life. It is inconsistent and arbitrary and it sometimes sentences innocent people to die. But all that aside, my voice is of a victim’s family member who still just wants her dad back. The death penalty system, no matter how hard it tries, simply cannot do that.  And it won’t honor my father or stepmother to do more killing now.” One of the killers of Smith’s parents is on Pennsylvania’s death row.

Former York County prosecutor and current defense attorney Sandra Thompson said, “After seeing first hand the havoc that violent crimes wreak on our community, I understand the need to hold individuals who actually commit these crimes accountable. However, there is considerable evidence demonstrating that Pennsylvania’s death penalty is deeply flawed. There is no justice with wrongful convictions. Six men have been released from death row in this state after evidence of their innocence emerged, including Nicholas Yarris, who served 22 years in prison before being freed due to newly-tested DNA evidence that showed he was not the killer. Halting executions while we address doubts about the fairness and accuracy of the system is the responsible thing to do.”

Karen Clifton from Catholic Mobilizing Network reacted, “We are grateful for the governor’s decision to halt executions in Pennsylvania. As Pope Francis said in October, ‘It is impossible to imagine that states today cannot make use of another means than capital punishment to defend peoples’ lives from an unjust aggressor.’ This move begins an important shift away from using violence to solve our problems.”

Ray Krone, a York County native and death row exoneree said, “After more than 10 years in prison, three of which were on death row, I was finally exonerated. I walked out of prison with a gate check for $50. I lost my home, U.S. Postal Service job, my personal possessions and 10 years of my life. I am the reason the death penalty must end. This announcement today gives me hope, I am so proud of my home state.”

In 2011, the Pennsylvania Senate passed Senate Resolution No. 6, “Directing the Joint State Government Commission to establish a bipartisan task force and an advisory committee to conduct a study of capital punishment in this Commonwealth and to report their findings and recommendations.” The results of the study will be presented to the legislature and the governor.

In a series of articles published in December 2014, the Reading Eagle found that Pennsylvania taxpayers have spent over $350 million on the death penalty over a period in which the state has carried out just three executions. All three executions involved inmates who had dropped their appeals. There are currently 188 people on death row in Pennsylvania, making it the fifth largest death row in the country.

For additional information, or to schedule interviews, please contact Kathleen Lucas at 717-236-4840 or klucas@padp.org. Kathleen Lucas is director of Pennsylvanians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty.