Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Four more years with Ed

Today Governor Ed Rendell was inaugurated for his second term here in PA. Four years ago, many of us were optimistic about the prospects for a death penalty moratorium in a Rendell administration. (Granted, after four years of the Ridge-Schweiker administration, the bar was pretty low.) During the 2002 campaign, Rendell stated that he would support a moratorium if the evidence showed that a suspension was warranted.

Six weeks later, on March 3, 2003, the PA Supreme Court Committee on Racial and Gender Bias released its report (PDF). The committee called for a moratorium on executions due to concerns with bias against minorities and the poor.

And Ed Rendell did nothing. In fact, he told ABC27 News in Harrisburg that he still had not seen the evidence for a moratorium...three weeks after the report was released.

In January, 2004, Nicholas Yarris of Philadelphia was released from prison after 22 years on death row for a crime someone else committed in Delaware County. Nick was so broken after his decades on death row that he was ready to accept execution until a DNA test saved his life.

And Ed Rendell did nothing.

In November, 2005, Harold Wilson of Philadelphia won acquittal at retrial after 16 years on death row. DNA evidence from the scene did not come from Harold or any of the victims, indicating the presence of another person, the possible assailant.

And Ed Rendell did nothing.

At some point in the next four years, it will be legacy-building time for Ed Rendell. I shook his hand at the Governor's Mansion after inaugural day 2003 and told him that something needed to be done about the death penalty. He said, "We will. I promise."

The only thing Ed Rendell has done about the death penalty is sign 63 death warrants. What will his legacy will be? When the day arrives that we ultimately end capital punishment in PA, will Ed Rendell be remembered as someone who let history pass him by? The next four years will tell.

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Wednesday, January 03, 2007

The new speaker of the PA House

The media coverage of new PA House Speaker Dennis O'Brien (R-Phila) has been largely positive. If you never heard of O'Brien before yesterday, you're now learning that he is a friend of organized labor, a "people person," and has "a passion for making the lives of people better" (the last one according to Governor Rendell).

All of that may true, as I've had little reason to notice Rep. O'Brien. He might be really great in a lot of ways. But here is what I do know about him. His stances on the Innocence Commission Act and the death penalty for those with mental retardation do not indicate a man who is fair or a decent person. His positions on those two issues lead me to question who he is.

The ICA passed the Senate unanimously in April. It would establish a commission to study the reasons why innocent people are convicted of crimes and then make recommendations for legislation to prevent it from happening in the future.

But after passing the Senate without a single dissenting vote, the bill sat in O'Brien's judiciary committee. It never saw the light of day. O'Brien couldn't be bothered to allow the state to study why innocent people are convicted.

Does this sound like someone who is fair?

On the death penalty and persons with mental retardation, O'Brien defied the disabilities community (you know, the people who actually work with folks with disabilities on a regular basis) to side with Attorney General Tom Corbett and the PA District Attorneys Association. The disabilities community, including the Arc of PA and the Disabilities Law Project, supported the process in which a defendant's mental capacity would be determined by the judge before trial. The DAs and Corbett believe the jury should make that determination after they've convicted the defendant of first degree homicide. This procedure was called "clearly prejudicial against the defendant" by Senator Stewart Greenleaf (R-Montgomery), who is the chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

This might be a bit of hyperbole, but O'Brien believes it's fine that innocent people are convicted of crimes and it's fine to execute persons with mental retardation. Ok, of course he doesn't believe that, but what can one be expected to believe in light of these stances he has taken?

This jury is still out on just how "fair" Dennis O'Brien really is.

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Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Have death penalty, need Catholics

The Catholic News Service picked up on DPIC's 2006 Year End Report. It's important that this discussion is happening. If we are to move forward on capital punishment in PA, we need the Catholics making some noise about it.

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