Less than one week after Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf decreed a death penalty moratorium in the state, Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams has fired back by filing an emergency petition with the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, asking the jurists to declare Wolf’s action unconstitutional.
Wolf explained that he made his decision because the death penalty is “error prone, expensive and anything but infallible.” Shortly after issuing the moratorium, Wolf sent a fax to Williams (yes, people still apparently use their fax machines, even at the upper echelons of government) granting a reprieve of the execution of death row inmate Terrance Williams, who was scheduled to be executed on March 4th for a murder he committed in 1984 in Philadelphia — his second murder conviction.
“Just weeks ago, Governor Wolf took an oath to faithfully execute his duties in accordance with the constitution of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania,” the District Attorney said in a statement on Wednesday. “Our constitution does not allow the governor to satisfy his own personal opinions by halting a capital murderer’s sentence that was authorized by state statute, imposed by a unanimous Philadelphia jury, and upheld by state and federal courts.”
He went on to say that the convicted murderer has already exhausted all of his appeals and that this is not a man who deserves to live, citing the man’s previous crimes, including threatening an elderly woman with a rifle in her home on Christmas Eve and bludgeoning two gay men to death in a robbery turned deadly.
In his petition, Williams insists that Wolf’s moratorium is “flagrantly unconstitutional” and that it “should be declared null and void by this Court.” (Read the full petition below.)
Pennsylvania has only executed three people since 1976, the year that the United States Supreme Court revived the death penalty. And the last person executed was Gary Heidnik, who died by lethal injection in 1999. A total of 186 people remain on Pennsylvania’s death row.
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