Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Reax to ABA report on PA's death penalty

The reactions have come in to the American Bar Association's new report on Pennsylvania's death penalty. They include the hopeful, the cautious, the cynical, and the prosecutors.

The hopeful
Senator Jim Ferlo (D-Allegheny), the primary sponsor of Senate Bill 850, which would create a study commission on the death penalty with a two-year suspension of executions:
"This bar association report should be a major impetus to push my bill along," said the Highland Park Democrat. "When a major pronouncement from such a prestigious group of national and Pennsylvania trial lawyers comes along, it should help garner support for the bill."

And Senator Stewart Greenleaf (R-Montgomery), who spearheaded the creation of the Advisory Committee on Wrongful Convictions:
State Sen. Stewart J. Greenleaf, R-Montgomery, said the ABA report adds momentum to work under way by an advisory committee on wrongful convictions that is expected to issue recommendations next year.

"They've brought together in one document issues that have been discussed in Pennsylvania for quite awhile, which I think is helpful and important," said Greenleaf, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

The cautious
Governor Edward Rendell:
"The governor will review the suggestions and take them under consideration," said Rendell spokesman Chuck Ardo.

The cynical
PA death row exoneree Nick Yarris:
Nicholas Yarris, a Philadelphian who was exonerated and released from Pennsylvania's death row in 2004, greeted the ABA report with a shrug. It won't change much, he predicted.

"We've had more exonerations in Pennsylvania than people we've executed," he said. "The biggest disappointment to me since my release is that nothing has changed. You'd think an innocent man is released from death row and there would be outrage."

Philadelphia Daily News columnist John Baer:
So poor people don't get the best lawyers and black people get screwed. When I suggest such is the case throughout the history of American jurisprudence, and ask why nothing's ever done about it, he says, "Well, that's a good question . . . at least we're drawing attention to it."

So I draw it to your attention. And I expect corrective change just as soon as we get better crime prevention, health-care reform, legislative reform, ethics reform . . .

The prosecutors
Bruce Castor, President of the Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association:
Bruce Castor, president of the Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association, said statewide minimum standards are a good idea, but the current system is not fatally flawed. His group is writing an objection to the ABA report.

"We haven't had anyone executed in Pennsylvania against their will in 45 years," said Castor, the Montgomery County district attorney. "So the people who are suffering because of inadequacies in the death penalty system are the survivors of homicide victims who never see justice carried out."

And Philadelphia ADA Ron Eisenberg:
"The ABA is against the death penalty, and they ought to be honest about that," he said. "I don't think there's anything new in it for people who are against the death penalty, but they have a big public-relations budget, and they've obviously spent a lot of money to get their message out. . . . This is part of a national campaign."

Mind you, the ABA assessment team included a current Deputy DA from Montgomery County, two former Assistant U.S. Attorneys, and a former President of the Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association. (Don Pardo voice) Welcome to another edition of Prosecutors Eating their Own!

The full ABA report is available here.

Andy in Harrisburg

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