PDAA Issues Statement Following Supreme Court Argument On Death Penalty

September 11, 2019

Philadelphia, PA – The Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association (PDAA) commended the thoughtful and measured approach of the Attorney General’s office in defense of the constitutionality of the death penalty today before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in the case of Commonwealth vs. Marinelli. The PDAA filed an amicus brief in the case and issued the following statement after today’s argument:

“Death penalty cases are rare and restricted in Pennsylvania, but in some of the most heinous cases, the death penalty is a punishment society has long determined can be warranted. Today’s argument by the commonwealth’s Attorney General’s office and the Senate Republicans correctly emphasized the strict parameters in which the death penalty is applied, the gauntlet of legal channels it must run through and the constitutional restrictions which require any changes to the death penalty be made by the legislature. We stand by our filing with the court, which urged sober application of long-established principles of statutory interpretation, constitutional analysis and to respect the role of the legislative branch of government in establishing law.”

The PDAA’s brief stands in stark contrast with the petitioners’ and the Philadelphia District Attorney’s position and emphasizes that Pennsylvania’s death penalty statute meets constitutional standards by appropriately channeling the discretion of prosecutors and sentencing authorities. Additionally, the brief debunks the disingenuous racial-biased narrative pushed by anti-death penalty advocates. A 2017 study by Penn State University researchers for the Pennsylvania Interbranch Commission for Gender, Racial and Ethnic Fairness, found there is no racial bias in prosecutors’ decisions or against defendants who receive death penalty sentences.

Pennsylvania’s death penalty procedures constitutionally direct and limit imposition of the ultimate punishment. The law limits the number of cases eligible for the death penalty, limits the discretion the sentencing judge or jury has in imposing a sentence and ensures that sentences meet all constitutional standards. A jury, judge and the decades-long gauntlet of the appellate system, examine every case exhaustively.

Examples of the rare cases in which the death penalty has been applied include:

  • Jacob Sullivan, who was convicted of the kidnapping, raping, killing, dismembering, and disposing of his girlfriend’s adopted child, Grace Packer in 2019;
  • Raghunandan Yandamuri, who was convicted of invading a home and killing Satayrathi Venna, by slitting her throat, and suffocating to death her 10-month old grandaughter, Saanvi Venna, in 2012;
  • Eric Frein, who was convicted of assassinating one state trooper, seriously injuring another and terrorizing two counties for weeks before he was captured after a massive manhunt in 2014.

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September 11, 2019

Contact: Lindsay Vaughan, Executive Director of the Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association lvaughan@pdaa.org or (717) 238-5416.