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October 7, 2010

"Real death-penalty crime: Not using it"

The title of this post is the headline of this notable commentary by Michael Smerconish appearing in the Philadelphia Daily News. Here are excerpts:

Poor Kim Pawlowski. First, she lost her police officer husband in February 2009, allegedly at the hands of Rasheed Scrugs - a man Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey described last year as "not salvageable." Now she will endure an unavoidable murder trial. And then, assuming a conviction, she'll sit through a penalty phase that's an outright sham.

We have the death penalty in this state in name only. And we owe it to Kim Pawlowski and scores of other grieving families to either use it or lose it. If we were being honest with them, we'd explain that convicted cop-killers have a better chance of dying from bedbugs than lethal injection. Just ask Maureen Faulkner or any number of a growing list of Philadelphia police widows and family members....

There are 50 death row inmates in the state whose sentences were set in the 1980s. Since becoming governor, Ed Rendell has signed at least 113 death warrants - none of which have actually been implemented.

In fact, since capital punishment was reinstated in the commonwealth in 1978, just three people have been put to death (the last was Gary Heidnik in 1999) - and only after each gave up his appeal. In other words, they asked for it!

The state's last contested execution was carried out in 1962. In the intervening five decades, the justice system has been gradually manipulated into a process that coddles its worst offenders at the expense of the real victims.

And, unfortunately, the reality is that with every minuscule appeal and scurrilous campaign of misinformation, the ultimate deterrent value of the death penalty is eroded.

There's a reason Richard Poplawski, accused of executing three officers in Pittsburgh last year, expressed a desire to "possibly write a book one day" from jail. And why Abu-Jamal has been nicknamed "Pops" by fellow death row inmates. It's because no matter what the law says, too many cogs in the state's criminal-justice system don't take the death penalty seriously.

Today, no cop-killer, no matter how heinous the murder, could have any well-founded fear of actually being executed. Which leaves little justification for parading the victims' families through a decades-long slog of hearings, appeals and news cycles. In the end, those responsible for the death of their loved ones never get the punishment to which they're sentenced.

In Pennsylvania, the wheels of justice are not just grinding slowly. They have dropped off the train all together. Meanwhile, the charade continues as family and loved ones of police officers continue to die of natural causes.

Kim Pawlowski will raise her son without a father. That's just not fair. And it certainly isn't justice.

October 7, 2010 at 08:00 AM | Permalink


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VENGEANCE LIVES IN THIS ARTICLE!!! A call for revenge in its purest form. How can PA be proud of an unused death chamber, not getting the revenge this author seeks!?!

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