Don’t Waste Time and Money Trying For a Death Sentence Which Will Never Be Carried Out

Sergeant Mark Fusetti is a retired Philadelphia Police officer, who last served on the Warrant Squad, and one of my electronic friends. His major concern right now — other than helping his friend Sam Oropeza get on the ballot for a Philadelphia City Council At Large seat — is crime in the City of Brotherly Love. The fatal shooting of Temple Police Officer Christopher Fitzgerald, allegedly by a privileged punk kid from Bucks County, has Sgt Fusetti, and many of the other law-and-order conservatives in and around Philly rightly concerned.

There are a lot of responses to Sgt Fusetti’s tweet, and almost all of them call for the death penalty in this case.

It was particularly egregious.

Temple University police officer Christopher Fitzgerald was pursuing three people he saw while investigating area carjackings and robberies when he was shot and killed, according to Philadelphia Police Staff Inspector Ernest Ransom.

Ransom said during a Tuesday news conference that Fitzgerald attempted to conduct a pedestrian investigation when all three fled on foot. Fitzgerald pursued them and was able to catch up with one of the suspects, identified by police as Miles Pfeffer. Fitzgerald could be heard on security footage ordering Pfeffer onto the ground when shots are heard and the muzzle flashed, Ransom said.

He added that Pfeffer shot Fitzgerald again while he was on the ground and unsuccessfully attempted to remove the officer’s handgun.

Yeah, this is one of those truly bad cases!

But what I look at is the reality of capital punishment in Pennsylvania. According to the Death Penalty Information Center, an anti-capital punishment organization, there have been only three executions in the Keystone State since the restoration of capital punishment in 1974. The last one was on July 6, 1999, 23½ years ago.

Governor Tom Corbett (R-PA) signed at least 48 death warrants during his four years in office, 2011 through 2014, but not a single condemned man was executed; all were delayed by the slow crawl of the appeals process. Upon succeeding Governor Corbett, Tom Wolf, a Democrat, declared a moratorium on executions; since the Governor must sign a death warrant for an execution to proceed, that stopped all executions in Pennsylvania during Mr Corbett’s eight years in office. Upon Josh Shapiro, another Democrat, taking office on January 17, 2023, he announced that he would continue the moratorium.

But whether the Governor supported or opposed capital punishment does not seem to have mattered: no one was executed.

The only three executions occurred between 1995 and 1999, when Governor Tom Ridge (R-PA) was in office. But if you look at the chart above carefully, you’ll see that all three men executed were “volunteers,” whom the Death Penalty Information Center defines as “individuals who waived at least part of their ordinary appeals or who terminated proceedings that would have entitled them to additional process prior to their execution.”

In other words, no one has been executed against his will in Pennsylvania since the restoration of capital punishment under Gregg v. Georgia, 428 U.S. 153 (1976).

Despite District Attorney Larry Krasner’s statement that ‘it could take up to a year to decide if the death penalty would be appropriate’ in this case, Mr Krasner had vowed never to seek the death penalty while he is in office. Several of the commenters on Sgt Fusetti’s Twitter thread said that Mr Krasner was simply delaying things, waiting for the hubbub to die down before he announced that no, he wouldn’t seek a death sentence, and who knows, that might actually be the case, but it’s clear that he is very reluctant to seek a death sentence.

Not that it matters. Just imagine that Mr Krasner does decide to go for a death sentence, and the punk kid who killed Officer Fitzgerald is sentenced to death; what would actually happen? We already know that Governor Shapiro would not sign any death warrant, so it would take until January of 2027, at the earliest, before there would be a governor in Pennsylvania who would sign it. Given the record under Governor Corbett, the greatest probability is that even if signed, the execution would not be carried out, unless the murderer decides to simply volunteer, just to get everything over.

But it would also mean that the killer would be housed on death row, in close confinement, in a cell by himself, in the most expensive way in which Pennsylvania incarcerates prisoners. The Commonwealth would have to pay for its side, and possibly part of the defense’s side, of the legal costs for the dozens of appeals which could be filed on various small points of the case.

It would all be a waste of time and money to keep the accused under a death sentence which would almost surely never be carried out. It would be a lot cheaper and more efficient to sentence him to life in prison without the possibility of parole and simply let him slowly rot away, forgotten by everyone, for the rest of his miserable life.

The accused killer is just a punk kid, a waste of water, food, and air to keep alive; for him I have no sympathy. But I do have sympathy for the taxpayers of Pennsylvania, one of whom I used to be, and seeing their hard-earned dollars essentially put in a pile and set on fire to get a sentence which says, “You’ve been a bad, bad, boy, and we really don’t like you,” but one which will never be carried out.
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