In his final week as Governor of Pennsylvania, Democrat Ed Rendell sent some mixed signals regarding the death penalty in this commonwealth.
First, on a positive note, Rendell noted on January 14 that there are flaws in the capital punishment process. However, being a death penalty proponent, he seemed more concerned about the time it takes for capital cases to work their way through the court system than the actual justice-related issues that worry death penalty opponents, such as the very real possibility of wrongful convictions.
Nevertheless, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer, Rendell “called on the General Assembly either to streamline the process or do away with capital punishment.”
To me it seems like too little too late. And the “streamlining” part of it concerns me.
First of all, in 2003, when Rendell was new in his Governor role, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s Committee on Racial and Gender Bias in the Justice System called for an immediate moratorium on executions, citing “strong indications that Pennsylvania’s capital justice system does not operate in an even-handed manner.” In fact, research showed that that black defendants in Philadelphia were four times more likely to receive the death penalty than non-blacks charged with similar crimes.
Armed with the proof of racism in the system and the Supreme Court Committee’s recommendation, countless concerned citizens petitioned the governor to implement a moratorium. But Rendell seemingly ignored it all. Some attributed that to the fact that as a former Philadelphia District Attorney, Rendell himself had convicted many of the Commonwealth’s death row prisoners.
Then, to add insult to injury (or vice-versa), Rendell signed six death warrants on January 14 of this year, the same day that he questioned the system, with one foot out the Governor’s office door.
In other words, one of his last acts in office was to issue orders to kill six people under a broken system that he concurrently criticized.
Rendell had eight years to fix the system if he really wanted to. Now he will be leaving it in the hands of his Republican successor, Tom Corbett, who, according to a spokesperson quoted by the Associated Press, believes that “[t]here’s nothing you can do about it.”
Nothing you can do about it?!
Tell that to the six exonerees who have been released from Pennsylvania’s death row since 1973, who may have been dead today if the authorities in charge also believed that “there’s nothing you can do about it.”
And tell the six exonerees that the process should have been “streamlined”, where streamlining could have deprived them of the opportunity to prove their innocence.
Where lives hang in the balance, shouldn’t true justice matter more than expediency?