The Slowly-Shifting Status Of Capital Punishment In PA

May 18, 2017

HARRISBURG (WSKG) -- Anti-establishment lawyer Larry Krasner's win in the Philadelphia District Attorney Democratic primary Tuesday put him on track for a probable victory in November. 

Larry Krasner, the Democratic nominee for Philadelphia district attorney, speaks during a news conference in Philadelphia.
Credit MATT ROURKE / AP PHOTO

Krasner has made a name for himself as a longtime defense lawyer in civil rights cases, but he is perhaps best-known for his ardent opposition to the death penalty. His election dredged up a recurring discussion Pennsylvania has been grappling with for decades: what does the future of capital punishment in the commonwealth look like?

Pennsylvania is one of only two states in the northeast that still allows the death penalty. It has the fifth most inmates on death row in the nation, but in the last 40 years, has only executed three people.

Why the disparity?

Marc Bookman, with the Atlantic Center for Capital Representation--which offers legal training and consulting for capital punishment cases--said death penalty cases in Pennsylvania are often faulty.

"We haven't properly funded the defense, we haven't made sure the prosecutors were trained, that the defense attorneys were trained," Bookman said. "So we've had any number of death sentences, and them virtually all of them have been reversed by the courts."

Bookman's organization opposes the capital punishment--mainly on the grounds the trials are a waste of time and resources.

"At this point it's nothing more than symbolism," he said. "What you have is kind of a conveyer belt of convictions and reversals. And a situation like that is terribly unfair, it costs an incredible amount of money...you know the death penalty has essentially become a black hole."

In 2015, Governor Tom Wolf issued a moratorium on the death penalty. Several studies on it are currently in the works.

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