PHILADELPHIA (Feb.18, 2015) – Philadelphia District Attorney R. Seth Williams today announced that he has petitioned the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to reject Governor Tom Wolf’s recent death penalty “reprieve” because it is an unconstitutional takeover of powers that belong to the legislature, the courts, and the pardons board – and because it sends a troubling message to the victims of crime and the citizens of Pennsylvania.
“Just weeks ago, Governor Wolf took an oath to faithfully execute his duties in accordance with the constitution of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania,” said Williams. “Our constitution does not allow the governor to satisfy his own personal opinions by halting a capital murderer’s sentence that was authorized by state statute, imposed by a unanimous Philadelphia jury, and upheld by state and federal courts.”
Unlike some states, Pennsylvania does not grant the Governor unlimited at-will power to issue a moratorium or pardon or commute any sentence of death or punishment.
Article IV, § 9 (a) of the Pennsylvania constitution states that “…no pardon shall be granted, nor sentence commuted, except on the recommendation in writing of a majority of the Board of Pardons, and, in the case of a sentence of death or life imprisonment, on the unanimous recommendation in writing of the Board of Pardons, after full hearing in open session, upon due public notice.”
Reprieves, like the one issued by the Governor for convicted murderer Terrance Williams, are designed to be limited in their duration and purpose. They exist to temporarily permit the examination of last-minute evidence or legal claims. But as the Governor himself acknowledged, there are no new claims in the case of Terrance Williams.
Terrance Williams has exhausted all of his appeals, including those to the Pennsylvania and United States Supreme Courts. He committed robberies and burglaries, broke into the home of an elderly woman on Christmas Eve with a rifle and threatened to blow her “f—ing head off,” and brutally bludgeoned to death two gay men so he could steal their belongings.
District Attorney Williams’ full filing with the Pennsylvania Supreme Court is attached.