An unintentional telling of the truth about capital punishment

From The Philadelphia Inquirer:

D.A. to appeal vacating death sentence for cop-killer
By Mike Newall, Inquirer Staff Writer | Print Edition, Thursday, January 30, 2014, p. B-1 | Posted: January 30, 2014

A Philadelphia judge, citing a constitutional restriction against executing people defined as mentally retarded, has vacated the death sentence of Edward Bracey, who was convicted of killing 1-year-old Officer Danny Boyle in 1991. (Click to enlarge)

PHILADELPHIA: The District Attorney’s Office will appeal a Philadelphia judge’s decision this month to vacate the death sentence of convicted cop-killer Edward Bracey.

A jury sentenced Bracey, now 50, to death in 1992 for shooting and killing rookie patrol officer Danny Boyle after a traffic pursuit in North Philadelphia. Bracey, a paroled felon, told police at the time that he shot Boyle to keep from going back to prison.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has twice affirmed Bracey’s death sentence, rejecting claims that he had ineffective counsel. The appeal will send the case to the high court for a third time.

While endless appeals would likely prevent Bracey from ever being executed anyway, Boyle’s family feels Bracey is angling for the chance to live his life in the less rigid confines of the general prison population.

Much more at the link.1

It was the last quoted paragraph in which the truth was unintentionally(?) told: we sentence people to death all the time in Pennsylvania, four more in 2013 alone, and currently have 194 men and 4 women on death row.

However, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania has actually carried out the death sentence on just three men since the reinstatement of capital punishment in 1976,2 and all three men “volunteered” for execution, by dropping their appeals.3

Seth Williams, District Attorney for Philadelphia

Prosecutors know that, and Seth Williams, the District Attorney for Philadelphia, who has prosecuted several death penalty cases, knows that as well as anyone else. We have had Republican governors and we have had Democratic governors since 1976, we’ve had “law and order” governors and strict attorneys general, but no one has actually been put to death against his will in all of that time.

But, the prosecutors in the Keystone State, including Mr Williams, keep pushing capital cases, keep trying to add people to death row, and adding millions and millions of dollars in extra expenses to the obligations of their cities and the Commonwealth, despite knowing that nobody against whom they win a capital sentence will be executed anyway.

And now, we have the admission, though somewhat on the back end, from the family of slain police officer Danny Boyle, that the goal isn’t to actually have Mr Bracey executed — they know that it won’t ever happen as long as he resists — but to keep him under the greater restrictions of death row, rather than to live in “general population.”

It’s understandable that Officer Boyle’s family would want Mr Williams to appeal this, and want the harshest possible conditions imposed on Mr Bracey, but their position is one of emotional attachment. Mr Williams’ position, on the other hand, is not so easily understandable. He is costing his city more money, by having to, yet again, appeal the judge’s decision,4 when he knows that even a successful appeal will not result in the death sentence being carried out, and that if he is successful, all he will succeed in doing is costing the Commonwealth more money to keep Mr Bracey incarcerated under death row conditions.

Your Editor has stated, several times, that he is opposed to capital punishment, period, but he understands the beliefs of those who support the death penalty as a requirement of justice in some cases. However, what we have in Pennsylvania is the worst of both worlds: we have a death penalty which is never actually executed — sick pun intended — and thus provides no actual justice for those who believe it is necessary for justice, yet we have all of the additional expenses of a capital punishment system, and a stable of prosecutors who want to add people to a system that they know will never execute anyone. That set-up makes no sense at all, and we might as well take the tax dollars collected from Pennsylvanians used for the capital punishment system and just set them on fire.

  1. Articles in The Philadelphia Inquirer are not always maintained on the server. This article also appeared in the print edition on Thursday, January 30, 2014, p. B-1.
  2. Pennsylvania passed a new capital punishment law on March 26, 1974, but 1976 is normally given as the date for reinstitution, because that was when the first actual execution occurred in the United States following the moratorium.
  3. Gary Heidnick in 1999, and Keith Zettlemoyer and Leon Moser in 1995.
  4. Common Pleas Court Judge M Teresa Sarmina, whose ruling Mr Williams is appealing, also botched the case against Monsignor William Lynn by misapplying the law.


  1. I have observed that modern crime and punishment is no more that a welfare program for lawyers, cops, judges and prison personnel. This is one end of the example. And it costs the tax payers a fortune. The other end is how DUI prosecution has grown from supposedly protecting the public to a money mill generating millions for townships, cities, defense attorneys, prosecutors et al. Now they’ve added “forfeiture” to DUI like somehow a modern DUI is like a RICO prosecution.

    Lawyers in this country have poisoned politics, bastardized justice, shredded the Constitution and ruined tort law with nonsense suits. When we have insufferable pigs like John Edwards making upwards of 40 million off a lawsuit, we have a serious problem. Sometimes you can watch TV and see an ad for a new drug complete with all the disclaimers on side effects and two minutes later an ad for a law firm suing companies over their drugs. It’s ludicrous. A year ago a friend who owns a little bar in Roslyn was sued and his insurance forked over $10,000 because the men’s room sink was 1 3/4 inches higher than permitted by the Americans with Disabilities Act. Somehow, someone was “damaged” to the tune of ten grand over a sink less than two inches off of “perfect”. Give me a break.

    What these lawyers do to criminal law they do to all other laws. Too many sharks feeding off the chum.

  2. I agree. Much as I am for free enterprise, it should not entail lawyers treating courtrooms like their own personal casino, where every case is a potential multi-million dollar jackpot.

  3. The judge, Maria Teresa Sarmina, ruled that cop killer Edward Bracey was too stupid to be put to death. Out on parole, Bracey admitted killing a cop to keep from going back to prison, which of course not only didn’t work out as expected, it put him on death row.

    So, Bracey’s proved he makes bad decisions, but is IQ really the issue here? He murdered a cop during the commission of a crime while out of prison on parole, which was enough for a jury to convict him and justify the death penalty, subsequently upheld by PA’s highest court twice.

    Now, along comes Judge Sarmina who vacates the death penalty (which is unlikely ever to be carried out anyway) and allows Bracey to join the general prison population. If he kills a guard or another inmate will Judge Sarmina take responsibility? Will she serve out Bracey’s life sentence for her criminal stupidity?

  4. His intelligence is an issue, because the Supreme Court ruled, in Atkins v Virginia 536 U.S. 304 (2002), that it’s unconstitutional to put the mentally retarded to death, something which ought to mean that no registered Democrat could ever be executed.

  5. If he kills a guard or another inmate will Judge Sarmina take responsibility?

    I’ve often wondered about that myself, ropelight. How is it that judges, like politicians are never held accountable for their bad decisions yet they all seem to be ready to pounce at the drop of a hat on someone else’s bad decisions? Why shouldn’t this judge be held at least civilly liable if this idiot kills someone else due to her decision? Let’s say some guy is in general population for kiting a check. In walks Bracey and shives him. What the judge did, in effect, was take Bracey off a death sentence for killing a cop and instead transferred it to a check fraud guy. That’s not blind justice. That’s stupid jurisprudence.

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