Saturday, July 2, 2011

"without a minute's thought"

Pennsylvania's death row holds 224 convicted killers, the fourth-most in the country. Pennsylvania has executed only three killers since the death penalty returned in 1978 and none in the past decade. During that same period, 20 death row inmates have died of natural causes. Gov. Ed Rendell said he would sign a death warrant "without a minute's thought" if Poplawski, 22, of Stanton Heights is sent to death row for killing three Pittsburgh police officers April 4 outside his home. But prosecutors have failed to get death sentences in the past three trials involving the slayings of police officers in Western Pennsylvania. "You have a stalemate. People want the death penalty but don't want to be like Texas," said Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center. "A lot of states don't seem to get anything from the death penalty but are not willing to get rid of it." Rendell, a former Philadelphia district attorney, has signed all 85 death warrants that crossed his desk in the past six years. A new warrant is generated when a state appeals court upholds a death sentence, and the governor must sign it in 30 days. That is happening less frequently. Former Govs. Tom Ridge and Mark Schweiker signed a combined 238 warrants during the eight years before Rendell took office. - Bobby Kerlik