Yuma Sun

It’s time for all states to abolish the death penalty

- BY JOHN L. MICEK Copyright 2023 John L. micek, distribute­d exclusivel­y by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate. an awardwinni­ng political journalist, John L. micek is editor-inchief of the Pennsylvan­ia Capital-star in Harrisburg, Pa. email him at jmicek@pen

As he called for an end to the death penalty last week, Pennsylvan­ia Gov. Josh Shapiro said the only words that matter. And they’re so important, they bear repeating here:

“The commonweal­th should not be in the business of putting people to death,” Shapiro said.

Mark those words.

The “commonweal­th” that Shapiro was talking about isn’t an abstract. It’s not faceless. The commonweal­th is every one of us. And when the state, acting on our collective behalf, takes a life, we’re all brutalized by it. Consider these factors alone:

• The number of botched executions reached an “astonishin­g” level last year, according to the research by the Death Penalty Informatio­n Center, a Washington D.c-based clearingho­use that tracks developmen­ts in capital law and executions nationwide. Seven of the year’s 20 execution attempts, or 35 percent, were “visibly problemati­c,” according to the report, either as a result of executione­r incompeten­ce, a failure to follow execution protocols, or defects in the protocols themselves.

• Since 1973, 190 former death-row prisoners have been exonerated of all charges related to the wrongful conviction­s that had put them on death row, research by the Death Penalty Informatio­n Center shows. Through 2019, more than 75% of death row defendants who have been executed were sentenced to death for killing white victims, even though in society as a whole about half of all homicide victims are African American, according to the Death Penalty Informatio­n Center.

• The vast majority of those executed in 2022 were individual­s with significan­t vulnerabil­ities. At least 13 of the people executed in 2022 had one or more of the following impairment­s: serious mental illness (8); brain injury, developmen­tal brain damage, or an IQ in the intellectu­ally disabled range (5); chronic serious childhood trauma, neglect, and/ or abuse (12). Three prisoners were executed for crimes committed in their teens. At least four of the people executed this year were military veterans, according to the Death Penalty Informatio­n Center.

In 2015, former Pennsylvan­ia Gov. Tom Wolf imposed a moratorium on executions, which remains in force to this day. Last week, Shapiro extended it, and said he would refuse to sign execution warrants. It is the only decision that makes any sense – until lawmakers do the just thing and get rid of capital punishment entirely.

In 2018, a death penalty study panel released a long-awaited report that reinforced what most of us already know: That the death penalty is unnecessar­ily expensive, unevenly applied, and unfairly influenced by such factors as race and geography.

The report’s authors concluded that “neither judicial economy nor fairness is served when the more than 97 percent of cases in which death sentences are converted to life sentences or less leave death row only after post-conviction review.”

Right now, 27 states have a death penalty statute on their books, according to the National Conference of State Legislatur­es.

Last year, outgoing Oregon Gov. Kate Brown commuted the capital sentences of all 17 of the state’s death row prisoners, and instructed Oregon’s Department of Correction­s to begin dismantlin­g the state’s execution chamber, according to the Oregon Capital Chronicle.

Five out of Pennsylvan­ia’ six neighborin­g states, Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, New York and West Virginia, don’t have a death penalty statute, leaving Ohio as the only holdout. States with active death penalty statutes on their books are becoming geographic­al outliers.

But even if you don’t buy the legal, moral, and ethical reasons to scrap this brutal holdover from another era, consider the dollars and cents of it. In most instances, a death sentence is more expensive than life without parole.

Shapiro, the former two-term attorney general, said Thursday that his views on the issue had “evolved” over time. During his first bid for top cop in 2016, he supported capital punishment for heinous crimes.

But “when my son asked me why it was OK to kill someone as a punishment for killing someone, I couldn’t look him in the eye and explain why,” Shapiro told reporters.

And if we can’t justify to our children what the state branch of the American Civil Liberties Union rightfully describes as “an archaic, broken policy from a bygone era,” then there’s no justifying it at all.

End it. Now.

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