Monday, January 23, 2006

PAUADP on innocence commission

This press release is in from Pennsylvania Abolitionists, re: Senator Greenleaf's innocence commission:
Abolitionists applaud Senator Greenleaf for innocence commission
legislation, suggest that legislature also suspend executions during study

HARRISBURG- Pennsylvania Senator Stewart Greenleaf (R-Montgomery) is expected to introduce legislation on Monday that will establish a commission to study why innocent people are convicted of crimes in the Commonwealth’s criminal justice system, and activists reacted by applauding his efforts.

“Senator Greenleaf deserves credit for recognizing how serious this issue is,” said Andy Hoover, executive director of Pennsylvania Abolitionists United Against the Death Penalty. “When innocent people lose precious years in jail for crimes they did not commit, it is devastating and alters their lives forever.

“With the death penalty, a mistake is deadly.”

This final point leads PAUADP to call on Senator Greenleaf to take one further step.

“A study like this must be accompanied by a moratorium on executions,” Hoover added. “It’s improper to recognize that our criminal justice system has this major problem but allow the state to continue pursuing executions and setting execution dates.

“We appreciate the desire to study these important issues. However, studies should lead to action.”

In 2003, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court Committee on Racial and Gender Bias in the Criminal Justice System recommended a moratorium on executions due to the committee’s concerns with bias against minorities and the poor in capital cases. In 1998, a study by University of Iowa professors David Baldus and George Woodworth found that black defendants were considerably more likely to be sentenced to death in Philadelphia than white defendants.

Seven Pennsylvanians have been exonerated after spending time on the state’s death row, including five in the last five years. Most recently, Harold Wilson of Philadelphia was acquitted at retrial on November 15 after 16 years on death row.

Wilson initially had his death sentence vacated on appeal because his trial attorney did not present mitigating evidence for the jury to consider a life sentence. He was then awarded a new trial when it was discovered that Philadelphia prosecutors had been trained to remove minorities from juries, a practice outlawed by the 1986 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Batson v. Kentucky.

“Harold’s case highlights why innocent people are convicted,” Hoover said. “Too often, poor defendants are represented by inadequate attorneys. Prosecutorial misconduct and the impact of race are also major factors in wrongful capital convictions.

“We are certain that there are innocent people on death row in Pennsylvania today.”

Earlier this month, New Jersey imposed a moratorium on executions in order to study a variety of problems with capital punishment. It is the third state moratorium and the first imposed by a state legislature. Moratoria in Illinois and Maryland were both established by gubernatorial action.

Death penalty statutes in New York and Kansas were declared unconstitutional in 2004.

Hoover noted that Pennsylvania has considerably more problems with capital punishment than New Jersey, including the discovery of innocent people on death row.

“New Jersey has had zero exonerations since 1976 while our state has had seven,” Hoover said. “There are 10 people on death row in New Jersey and 224 in Pennsylvania. New Jersey last executed someone in 1963 while we carried out three executions in the 1990s.

“The New Jersey legislature and governor recognized the need for a moratorium. Our General Assembly and Governor Rendell need to recognize the same need here in our Commonwealth.”

For more information on the death penalty in Pennsylvania, visit


Post a Comment

<< Home