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By James Roxbury
Friday February 13, 2015 at 11:47 am

Updated 5:47pm.

Dauphin County District Attorney Ed Marsico, and Cumberland County District Attorney David Freed held a press event to address the moratorium Friday afternoon.

Ed Marsico.

David Freed.

We sent a letter to Governor Wolf.


As released by the Governor's Press Office.

Harrisburg, PA – Today, Governor Tom Wolf announced a moratorium on the death penalty in Pennsylvania that will remain in effect until the governor has received and reviewed the forthcoming report of the Pennsylvania Task Force and Advisory Commission on Capital Punishment, established under Senate Resolution 6 of 2011, and there is an opportunity to address all concerns satisfactorily.

“Today’s action comes after significant consideration and reflection,” said Governor Wolf. “This moratorium is in no way an expression of sympathy for the guilty on death row, all of whom have been convicted of committing heinous crimes. This decision is based on a flawed system that has been proven to be an endless cycle of court proceedings as well as ineffective, unjust, and expensive. Since the reinstatement of the death penalty, 150 people have been exonerated from death row nationwide, including six men in Pennsylvania. Recognizing the seriousness of these concerns, the Senate established the bipartisan Pennsylvania Task Force and Advisory Commission to conduct a study of the effectiveness of capital punishment in Pennsylvania. Today’s moratorium will remain in effect until this commission has produced its recommendation and all concerns are addressed satisfactorily.”

This morning, Gov. Wolf took the first step in placing a moratorium on the death penalty by granting a temporary reprieve to inmate Terrance Williams, who was scheduled to be executed on March 4, 2015. Governor Wolf will grant a reprieve – not a commutation – in each future instance in which an execution for a death row inmate is scheduled, establishing an effective moratorium on the death penalty in Pennsylvania. For death row inmates, the conditions and confinement will not change.


Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association responds to the moratorium.

Pittsburgh, PA – The Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association (PDAA) today issued the following:

Governor Tom Wolf’s action today granting Terrance Williams a reprieve and imposing a moratorium on the death penalty is a misuse of his power and ignores the law. He has rejected the decisions of juries that wrestled with the facts and the law before unanimously imposing the death penalty, disregarded a long line of decisions made by Pennsylvania and federal judges, ignored the will of the legislature, and ultimately turned his back on the silenced victims of cold-blooded killers.

A reprieve, used correctly, is a legal measure devised to prevent injustice and not a means to end the death penalty. A moratorium is just a ploy. Make no mistake, this action is not about waiting for a study– it’s about the governor ignoring duly enacted law and imposing his personal views against the death penalty. If it were anything else, he would have granted our association’s request to speak with him before making this decision.

Public safety is served when the most cold-blooded, heinous killers are publicly convicted and sentenced to death. The death penalty is sought in rare instances and only when the facts of a case meet the narrowest requirements by law. Rightly so, every case is examined exhaustively. No one, including the governor, has the legal right to nullify the jurors’ unanimous verdict and unanimous sentencing or the decades-long gauntlet each case must run through the appellate system.

No district attorney takes pleasure in pursuing a death penalty case. We must and do make those decisions based on the facts of the case, the ethical structure of our profession and the understanding that the death penalty is reserved for only the worst of the worst cold-blooded killers as defined by law, such as:

Eric Frein, who is charged with assassinating a state trooper and terrorized two counties for weeks and was only captured after a massive manhunt;

Gary Fellenbaum and Jillian Tait, who have been charged with torturing and killing a three-year-old boy in a Chester County trailer park;

Hubert Michael, who kidnapped, raped, and murdered a fourteen-year-old girl; and

Mark Spotz, who went on a killing spree in central Pennsylvania, leaving four bodies, and a universe of crushed families, in his wake.

Those who oppose the death penalty, including the governor are free to debate the issue openly and try to persuade the legislature and the people to change the law. As always, we welcome the public debate and only insist that prosecutors and victims’ families are openly and honestly included in that discussion.


Statement from Speaker Turzai, Majority Leader Reed.

HARRISBURG – Speaker of the House Mike Turzai (R-Allegheny) and Majority Leader Dave Reed (R-Indiana) issued the following statement today in response to Gov. Tom Wolf’s decision to place a moratorium on the death penalty in Pennsylvania.

“Well, we can’t say we are surprised he is checking off another box on his list of commitments to his political supporters.

“His death penalty moratorium is, in reality, a political statement without public discourse or input. Or, apparently, without any consideration for those the victims left behind.

“But there is, once more, a question. Did the governor overstep his authority? Once again, the governor acted not in an open or transparent manner, but unilaterally deciding to alter the law.

“Should Pennsylvania have a death penalty discussion? Yes, and our Judiciary Committee will be doing just that -- through our open and transparent legislative process.

“Part of the dysfunction in Washington, D.C., has been caused by a chief executive who has decided to unilaterally make public policy decisions. If we are to avoid the same problems in Pennsylvania, all branches of government need to be included in those policy decisions.”

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