HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) – It is rare for a district attorney to seek the death penalty, as happened in the Eric Frein case.
It is rarer still for a jury to hand it out.
But it’s rarest of all for it to be carried out.
“We have a sham death penalty in Pennsylvania,” Lancaster County District Attorney Craig Stedman said bluntly.
Only three people have been put to death in PA since it was re-instated in 1976. All of them dropped their appeals. All basically saying, ‘kill me.’ All of them under Governor Tom Ridge.
Stedman says the law is on the books but it, and the jury’s verdicts, are being ignored across the commonwealth.
“Honestly, with some of these people the only thing you can do to protect society is execute them,” Stedman said.
Eric Frein is in no immediate danger.
In February, 2015, Governor Tom Wolf put a moratorium on executions until results of a death penalty study were complete. That study, first commissioned in 2011, is still being conducted by the Joint State Government Commission.
“Making it one of the most comprehensive studies, to date, of the death penalty,” said Patrick Cawley, executive director of the senate judiciary committee, which created the commission.
Perhaps the study is too comprehensive. It began with Senate Resolution 6 of 2011. It’s been underway for six years, and counting.
The commission’s executive director sent a letter to lawmakers thanking them for their “enduring patience.” The letter said “it is our sincere hope and goal to have the final report in your hands by the end of this year.” That letter was written June 18, 2015, nearly two years ago.
“It’s absurd,” said Rich Long, Executive Director of the Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association in Harrisburg, of the long-delayed study. “There’s zero sense of urgency to get it done and every reason to delay, which is exactly what they’re doing.”
Senator Stewart Greenleaf (R-Montgomery/Bucks) chairs the judiciary committee and the commission. He urged patience when I asked him about the study nearly two years ago.
“If it was just a seat of the pants report, I would say it’s not worth waiting for, but this is gonna be well worth waiting for,” Greenleaf said suggesting then that the report should be done by the end of the year. Again, that was more than a year and a half ago.
He did note that on this topic, getting it right is more important than getting it fast.
“When we’re talking about a person’s life, we have to make sure we’re doing the right thing,” Greenleaf said.