PDAA Issues Statement on Death Penalty Moratorium

February 13, 2015

Pittsburgh, PA – The Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association (PDAA) today issued the following: 

Governor Tom Wolf’s action today granting Terrance Williams a reprieve and imposing a moratorium on the death penalty is a misuse of his power and ignores the law.  He has rejected the decisions of juries that wrestled with the facts and the law before unanimously imposing the death penalty, disregarded a long line of decisions made by Pennsylvania and federal judges, ignored the will of the legislature, and ultimately turned his back on the silenced victims of cold-blooded killers.

A reprieve, used correctly, is a legal measure devised to prevent injustice and not a means to end the death penalty.  A moratorium is just a ploy.  Make no mistake, this action is not about waiting for a study– it’s about the governor ignoring duly enacted law and imposing his personal views against the death penalty. If it were anything else, he would have granted our association’s request to speak with him before making this decision.

Public safety is served when the most cold-blooded, heinous killers are publicly convicted and sentenced to death.  The death penalty is sought in rare instances and only when the facts of a case meet the narrowest requirements by law.  Rightly so, every case is examined exhaustively. No one, including the governor, has the legal right to nullify the jurors’ unanimous verdict and unanimous sentencing or the decades-long gauntlet each case must run through the appellate system.

No district attorney takes pleasure in pursuing a death penalty case.  We must and do make those decisions based on the facts of the case, the ethical structure of our profession and the understanding that the death penalty is reserved for only the worst of the worst cold-blooded killers as defined by law, such as:

Eric Frein, who is charged with assassinating a state trooper and terrorized two counties for weeks and was only captured after a massive manhunt;

Gary Fellenbaum and Jillian Tait, who have been charged with torturing and killing a three-year-old boy in a Chester County trailer park;

Hubert Michael, who kidnapped, raped, and murdered a sixteen-year-old girl; and

Mark Spotz, who went on a killing spree in central Pennsylvania, leaving four bodies, and a universe of crushed families, in his wake.

Those who oppose the death penalty, including the governor are free to debate the issue openly and try to persuade the legislature and the people to change the law.  As always, we welcome the public debate and only insist that prosecutors and victims’ families are openly and honestly included in that discussion.

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