A legal battle over Gov. Tom Wolf’s seven-month death penalty moratorium lands in the state’s Supreme Court on Thursday.
The court’s ruling could disrupt Wolf’s plans to continue issuing reprieves to death row inmates, at least until a state task force finishes studying capital punishment in Pennsylvania.
The governor’s first reprieve came in February for inmate Terrance Williams, sentenced to death for killing a man in 1984. The Philadelphia District Attorney’s office challenged the reprieve, saying it can’t be an open-ended ruling absent specific consideration of the inmate. The governor countered that his actions are supported by the constitution and history.
Bruce Ledewitz, a professor at Duquesne University School of Law, has said case law requires a reprieve to be for a definite time and purpose.
“The governor defined the purpose – to wait,” said Ledewitz. “The question is whether the reprieve has something to do with the particular prisoner who gets the reprieve.”
In June, Wolf postponed the death of a second inmate, Hubert Lester Michael, who was convicted in 1993 of raping and killing a 16-year-old girl. He never contested his guilt or the judgment.
The high court will hear oral arguments in Philadelphia.