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.

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