Gov. Shapiro won’t enforce capital punishment in PA, calls for its abolishment
Shapiro made the announcement at Mosaic Community Church in West Philly alongside State Senators Nikil Saval, Vincent Hughes, and Mayor Jim Kenney.
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Pennsylvania Governor Josh Shapiro followed in the footsteps of his predecessor Gov. Tom Wolf on Thursday morning, Feb. 16, by announcing that any instance of capital punishment will not occur under his governorship. He also called on the General Assembly to abolish the death penalty, calling it fallible and irreversible.
Wolf, newly elected back in 2015, applied a moratorium to the death penalty in the state and called the system of capital punishment at the time “error-prone, expensive and anything but infallible.”
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 27 states currently allow the death penalty.
“I have painstakingly considered every aspect of Pennsylvania’s capital sentencing system, reflected on my own conscience, and weighed the tremendous responsibilities I have as Governor,” Wolf said at the time.
In a news conference held at Mosaic Community Church in West Philadelphia, Shapiro was joined by a number of state lawmakers, Philly City Council members, and other community and criminal justice advocates that included Sen. Nikil Saval, Sen.Vincent Hughes and Rep. Rick Krajewski.
Shapiro started off by discussing the personal significance of Mosaic Community Church, a site he visited during his campaign run in October 2022 where he discussed the violence endemic in Philadelphia with local community advocates and victims of gun violence.
“This place means something to me, because those are just some of the stories I've heard, and the lessons that I learned here,” said Shapiro. “You told me about your neighbors and your friends. And we talked about what we need to do to make our system more fair and more just.”
In his return, he called out the state’s capital punishment system and called on the PA legislature to correct it.
Since taking office, Gov. Shapiro has shifted his stance on capital punishment, after saying he was morally opposed to the practice throughout his campaign run.
During his time as Attorney General in 2016, Shapiro said he was a supporter of it, but for only the worst of the worst.
In West Philly, Shapiro recalled his time as Attorney General for Pennsylvania and spoke on the “privilege” of being able to see the nation's much criticized criminal justice system up close as the chief law enforcement officer.
“When the first capital cases came to my desk in the AG’s office, I found myself repeatedly unwilling to seek the death penalty. When my son asked me why it is OK to kill someone as a punishment for killing someone, I couldn’t look him in the eye and explain why,” he said.
The recently-inaugurated Governor has had a fast start to his time in office, fulfilling campaign promises of freedom, and accountability.
Shapiro sent a letter earlier this week to Norfolk Southern over their mismanagement of a train derailment near state lines that has impacted the small Ohio town of East Palestine.
Shapiro will now refuse to sign off on any execution warrants and will exercise his power to grant whoever is sent to the chair, a reprieve.
“I’m respectfully calling on the General Assembly to work with me to abolish the death penalty in Pennsylvania — once and for all. I know that there are people on both sides of the aisle who agree with me on this, and there are those who don’t,” he said.
Shapiro suggested that it is time that the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania do what 25 other states have done and outlaw capital punishment or refuse to impose it, such as in neighboring states New Jersey, Maryland, and West Virginia.
According to statistics from the Department of Corrections, Pennsylvania has 101 men and women on death row. Pennsylvania has executed three people since capital punishment was reinstated in 1976.
In the over 35 years since, courts and governors have blocked every other death sentence thus far passed down.
The three who were executed gave up on their appeals voluntarily with the most recent execution taking place in 1999.
“The Commonwealth shouldn’t be in the business of putting people to death. Period. I believe that in my heart,” he said. “This is a fundamental statement of morality. Of what’s right and wrong.”
“And I believe Pennsylvania must be on the right side of this issue.”