Death penalty

Katie Blackley / 90.5 WESA

Federal prosecutors announced in August that they will pursue the death penalty against the man accused of killing 11 at the Tree of Life synagogue last October. They argued in a court filing that one reason the attack was especially nefarious was because it stemmed from the defendant’s hatred for Jews.

Andrew Harnik / AP

On today's program: Mayor Peduto returns from the world stage on climate action; robotics and AI are helping power a local agriculture company; Pittsburgh restaurants are helping restore the Chesapeake Bay; the state Supreme Court declines to abolish capital punishment in PA; and a reporter hopes to find tangible solutions to child poverty in the region. 

KIICHIRO SATO / AP

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 percent.

Sarah Kovash / 90.5 WESA

On today's program: Black newspapers can weather shifts in community news; parents worry about a controversial herbicide being used on school property; some Tree of Life congregants disagree with a death penalty for Robert Bowers; the nation's largest Amish settlement is being encroached on by development; Amazon partners with the Pittsburgh Health Data Alliance; and NPR's David Greene hopes the Steelers can overcome a distraction-filled postseason. 

KEITH SRAKOCIC / AP

Two congregations associated with the Tree of Life synagogue disagree with the federal government’s decision to pursue the death penalty against the man who allegedly killed 11 congregants last year.

Kiley Koscinski / 90.5 WESA

On today's program: New technology could make scanning for neurological disorders easier; an East Liberty theater spotlights black stories; the Allegheny Land Trust wants to preserve the land where a country club used to be; the return of the federal death penalty could affect the man accused of killing 11 at Tree of Life; and PennDOT recognizes people who don't identify as male and female.

Patrick Doyle / 90.5 WESA

A group of Republican state senators has urged the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to reject an attempt to overturn the death penalty. 

Kimberly Paynter / WHYY

Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner says the death penalty violates Pennsylvania’s constitution and he’s calling for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to outlaw it.

Krasner filed a motion arguing the state has used the death penalty arbitrarily — thus violating protections against cruel punishments.

He says ineffective counsel for poor defendants has led to bad decisions that were later overturned, especially in Philadelphia. His office reviewed cases from 1978 through 2017.

KIICHIRO SATO / AP

Two state House members, from opposite sides of the aisle, have drafted legislation to abolish the death penalty in Pennsylvania.

Courtesy of the Republican Party of Pennsylvania

After the 2018 midterm election, the Pennsylvania Congressional delegation made a big shift from 13 Republicans and five Democrats to an even split of 9-9, but Pennsylvania Republican Party chair Val DiGiorgio says he’s not worried about the 2020 presidential race.

Kiichiro Sato / AP

An odd-couple pair of House lawmakers are teaming up on a bill that would get rid of the death penalty in Pennsylvania.

Prosecutors Driving Dip In PA Death Sentences, Not Moratorium

Dec 17, 2018
Ted S. Warren / AP

A new report from a group that tracks the death penalty in America finds that executions have reached the lowest point since 1991.

Kiichiro Sato / AP

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court will weigh whether to block the use of the death penalty unless the state overhauls how it is imposed. In an order Monday, the court said it will consider taking the unusual step of hearing the case before lower courts have ruled on it.  

Exonerated Death-Row Inmates Push Pa. To Abolish Capital Punishment

Nov 16, 2018
Kimberly Paynter / WHYY

Witness to Innocence, a national anti-death penalty organization based in Philadelphia, staged an event in the city Thursday calling for Pennsylvania to abolish the death penalty.

Led by exonerated death row inmates, WTI uses the first-hand experiences of the wrongly convicted to push for an end to executions in the U.S. — calling the death penalty the biggest problem in a “fatally flawed” criminal justice system.

Virginia Alvino Young / 90.5 WESA

The Tree of Life shooting, which left 11 Jewish worshippers dead, has been deemed the most fatal anti-Semitic attack in American history. Federal prosecutors were quick to charge the accused gunman, Robert Bowers, with hate crimes for each fatality.

An-Li Herring / 90.5 WESA

A Pennsylvania woman gave birth in a sports bar bathroom and left the baby there, where it soon died. Now the woman is sentenced to spend the rest of her life in prison.

Kiichiro Sato / AP

Pennsylvania’s District Attorneys Association is criticizing a recently-released study that gives the commonwealth a number of recommendations to improve how it handles its death penalty—including providing public funding for indigent defense and additional considerations for mentally ill offenders.

Death Penalty Study Recommends Changes Amid Wolf Moratorium

Jun 25, 2018
Kiichiro Sato / AP

A study released Monday suggested a number of changes to the death penalty system in Pennsylvania, including setting up a publicly funded agency to provide legal representation in capital cases.

The long-awaited report by the Task Force and Advisory Committee on Capital Punishment said the state should make its lethal injection protocol public and use "an appropriate and effective drug" to execute people humanely.

Trump Opioid Plan Includes Death Penalty For Traffickers

Mar 19, 2018
Evan Vucci / AP

President Donald Trump's plan to combat opioid drug addiction nationwide calls for stiffer penalties for drug traffickers, including the death penalty where appropriate under current law, a top administration official said. 

GOP Governor Hopeful Wants Death Penalty For School Shooters

Feb 26, 2018
Gerald Herbert / AP

Republican gubernatorial candidate Scott Wagner says he'll pursue a mandatory death penalty for any school shooter who kills someone, although legal analysts say that's unconstitutional.

Allegheny County Jail / AP

Prosecutors plan to seek the death penalty if a man is convicted of first-degree murder in a Pittsburgh fire that killed two women and a 4-year-old child last year.

Forty-one-year-old Martell Smith is charged with homicide and arson in the deaths of 58-year-old Sandra Douglas, 21-year-old Shamira Staten and her daughter Chy'enne Manning.

Authorities allege that Smith set the fire Dec. 20 after a bar fight with a relative of theirs. Police allege that he said "Yep, I did it" as he watched the house burn.

Keith Srakocic / AP

Prosecutors will seek the death penalty against a Pennsylvania man accused of killing a police officer and then leading law enforcement on a four-day manhunt with the help of his mother.

The Westmoreland County district attorney's office has filed a notice of intent to seek capital punishment if 29-year-old Rahmael Holt is convicted of first-degree murder.

Kiichiro Sato / AP

Over the last 50 years, more than 8,000 people have been sentenced to die under the death penalty, and 1,500 of them were ultimately executed. But today, the death penalty has fallen out of favor.

Bell Tolls As Police Ambush Killer Gets Death Sentence

Apr 27, 2017
Rich Schultz / AP

The bell atop the Pike County Courthouse last tolled the fate of a condemned killer in the 1980s.

On Wednesday, it rang again.

Eric Frein, the would-be revolutionary who shot two Pennsylvania troopers, one fatally, in a late-night attack at their barracks, was sentenced to death late Wednesday. The jury's decision that Frein should die by lethal injection brought a shouted "yes!" from a gallery that included high-ranking state police brass, the slain officer's mother and the trooper who suffered debilitating injuries after Frein shot him with a high-powered rifle.

Federal Bureau of Prisons

 

Federal prosecutors say an inmate's killing of a guard at a federal prison in Pennsylvania was a calculated slaying that saw the suspect pause to chew a piece of gum he took from the dying man's pocket.

Federal prosecutors detailed the attack in court documents filed Monday, arguing that a jury should see surveillance video showing the 9-minute attack, and 22-minute aftermath in which guard Eric Williams lay dying before other guards arrived.

Aapo Haapanen / Flickr

  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. 

Gov. Tom Wolf issued a temporary stay of execution on Thursday for convicted killer Hubert Lester Michael, who was set to die the next day.

It’s the governor’s second intervention since he took office. He promised in February to grant a reprieve to any inmate whose execution date comes before the results of the newly established Pennsylvania Task Force and Advisory Committee on Capital Punishment are published.

Pennsylvania DAs Take Aim at Wolf's Death Penalty Moratorium

Apr 14, 2015

The Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association said Tuesday that Gov. Tom Wolf's death penalty moratorium could affect plea bargains and how judges and juries view executions, arguing it violates elements of the state constitution.

The association released a friend-of-the-court brief in a case before the state Supreme Court that challenges the governor's policy, saying he has misinterpreted the term "reprieve." The prosecutors said reprieves can only halt a criminal sentence for a defined period of time and for a reason that relates specifically to a particular convict.

The legislative task force studying the state's death penalty is once again pushing back its deadline.

The panel was supposed to finish its work in December 2013, but it has repeatedly extended its timeline. Now, the agency putting together a final report says it might need until next year.

As a legal challenge to Governor Tom Wolf’s moratorium on the death penalty advances, state lawmakers are planning their own review of the capital sentencing system.

The state Supreme Court has agreed to hear arguments over whether the governor can issue reprieves in each death penalty case, effectively imposing a moratorium on state executions.

Wolf cited concerns over the costs and flaws of the capital sentencing system.

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