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February 16, 2023

Gov. Josh Shapiro calls on lawmakers to ban the death penalty in Pennsylvania

The Democrat vowed to not sign any execution warrants, following in the footsteps of former Gov. Tom Wolf

Though capital punishment remains on the books in Pennsylvania, the state has not executed anyone since 1999. And only three death sentences have been carried out since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1967.  And Gov. Josh Shapiro wants to formally end the death penalty. 

Speaking Thursday at Mosaic Community Church in West Philadelphia, Shapiro said he will not sign any execution warrants while in office. He then went a step further by urging lawmakers to draft legislation that would end the death penalty. 

"I have considered every aspect of Pennsylvania's capital sentencing system, reflected on my conscience, and weighed the tremendous responsibilities I have," Shapiro tweeted. "Pennsylvania should do what 25 other states have done in outlawing the death penalty or refusing to impose it."

Former Gov. Tom Wolf imposed a moratorium on the death penalty, calling it "a flawed system that has proven to be an endless cycle of court proceedings as well as ineffective, unjust and expensive." His predecessor, Republican Tom Corbett, signed 48 death warrants during his four years in Harrisburg. 

Shapiro told reporters he will follow Wolf's lead on the issue. 

"This is a fundamental statement of morality. Of what's right and wrong," Shapiro said. "I believe Pennsylvania must be on the right side of this issue."

Only three people in Pennsylvania have been executed since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976. 

The last was Gary Heidnik, who was put to death by lethal injection in 1999. Heidnik had been found guilty of holding six women captive in a pit he dug in his Philadelphia basement. He tortured and raped them, and killed two of them. His crimes helped form the basis of the 1988 novel "The Silence of the Lambs," which was turned into a movie that won the Academy Award for best picture. 

Since 1990 Pennsylvania has executed people through lethal injection, moving away from electrocution. 

In 1995, Keith Zettlemoyer became the first person executed by lethal injection in Pennsylvania; he was convicted of murdering a friend who was set to testify against him during a robbery trial in 1980.

Later in 1995, Leon Moser was executed, too. He was convicted of killing his ex-wife and their two daughters following a Palm Sunday service at a church in Montgomery County in 1985.