(Christen Smith, The Center Square) Pennsylvania Democrat Gov. Josh Shapiro said Thursday he won’t sign any execution warrants and called on legislators to join 25 other states to ban the death penalty “once and for all.”
“When my son asked me why it’s OK to kill someone as a punishment for killing someone, I couldn’t look him in the eye and explain why,” Shapiro said during a news conference at the Mosaic Community Church in west Philadelphia.
Shapiro, state attorney general from 2017 until last month, admitted his position on the subject has “evolved” over the years. Despite supporting the death penalty for heinous crimes throughout his career, he could never bring himself to seek capital punishment when serving as the state’s top prosecutor.
Then, he said, he met with the families of 11 victims slain during the Tree of Life Synagogue massacre near Pittsburgh in 2018. They encouraged him to reject his knee-jerk support for the death penalty.
“He should spend the rest of his life in prison they said, but the state should not take his life as punishment for him taking the lives of their loved ones,” Shapiro said. “That moved me and that’s stayed with me.”
Between 1978 and 2015, Pennsylvania spent an estimated $816 million to execute three inmates out of more than 400 sentenced to capital punishment, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. The center said the three men executed volunteered for the sentence, experienced mental health issue, and waived their rights to an appeals process.
As of 2023, an additional 11 men on death row have been exonerated and more than half have been resentenced.
“The Commonwealth shouldn’t be in the business of putting people to death. Period,” Shapiro said. “I believe that in my heart.”
Senate Majority Leader Joe Pittman, R-Indiana, said Thursday he agrees death penalty warrants deserve “careful examination,” but found fault with Shapiro’s approach.
“For us to learn of Governor Shapiro’s position on the death penalty only minutes before it was announced on his Twitter account is a rash approach to an issue of this magnitude,” he said. “Any changes to close access to an element of punishment must appropriately consider the families of murder victims and the critical perspective of law enforcement.”
Shapiro’s announcement follows former Democrat Gov. Tom Wolf’s moratorium on the death penalty, implemented in 2015.