Pennsylvania’s new governor, Josh Shapiro, has announced that he will not sign any death warrants during his term. Along with the pledge, he called on the state’s legislature to take the necessary steps to abolish the death penalty in his state.
Governor Shapiro made the announcement at a West Philadelphia church, where he noted that his opinions on the death penalty have changed since his time as the state’s attorney general. He explained that during his time as AG, he believed that, while the death penalty should be reserved for the most heinous crimes, it was “a just punishment for those crimes.”
As such cases came across his desk, however, he found it hard to sign off on them. Shapiro explained that conversations with his son about the efficacy of the death penalty began to change his mind:
“When my son asked me why it was OK to kill someone as a punishment for killing someone, I couldn’t look him in the eye and explain why,” Governor Shapiro recalled.
Continuing his explanation, Shapiro reflected on conversations he’d had with victims of the shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh’s Squirrel Hill – the October 2018 incident in which an armed assailant entered the building to shoot and kill 11 Jewish worshipers. Shapiro said he was taken aback when the families requested that he not seek the death penalty:
“I listened to the families of those 11 people. And I was truly moved by their courage and by their grace,” he said. “They told me, and they told the world, that even after all the pain and anguish, they did not want that killer to be put to death. That’s what they said as a collective group. Yes, they think he should spend the rest of his life in prison. I do as well. But they said the state should not take his life as punishment for his taking the lives of their loved ones. That has stayed with me.”
The Pennsylvanian governor concluded his address with a call to all state legislators to take the necessary steps to abolish the death penalty within the state, once and for all. After noting that there are people on both sides of the aisle that agree and disagree with his plans for the state’s capital punishment system, he said:
“I believe we should work together … This must be bigger than studying this issue or reviewing the system. We shouldn’t aim to just fix the system. The Commonwealth shouldn’t be in the business of putting people to death. Period. I believe that in my heart. This is a fundamental statement of morality. Of what’s right and wrong. And I believe Pennsylvania must be on the right side of this issue.”
According to The Hill, the Pennsylvanian death row is among the largest in the country, with 101 offenders awaiting execution. While it is one of the most populated death rows in the US, the last execution to take place in Pennsylvania was in 1999. In the last 16 years, 11 states have abolished the death penalty.