Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner says the death penalty violates Pennsylvania’s constitution and he’s calling for the state Supreme Court to outlaw it.
Krasner filed a motion arguing the state has used the death penalty arbitrarily — thus violating protections against cruel punishments.
He says ineffective counsel for poor defendants has led to bad decisions that were later overturned, especially in Philadelphia. His office reviewed cases from 1978 through 2017.
“Out of 155 Philadelphia death sentences, 72% of them have been overturned,” Krasner said at a press conference Tuesday. “That is a big deal.”
Krasner says the death penalty has disproportionately affected poor defendants of color who can’t afford private attorneys. He said appointed counsel can earn as little as $2 an hour if they prepare properly for trial, so instead they cut corners to the detriment of clients.
Reverend Gregory Holstein, executive director of the interfaith advocacy group POWER, agreed the penalty needs to be abolished.
“We cannot idly go by and allow institutions, our criminal justice institutions, our death penalty institutions and see the racism right there before us and do nothing about it.”
Former inmate Anthony Wright was among the many advocates joining Krasner at the announcement.
“I served 25 years following a wrongful conviction for rape and murder, losing an entire adolescent life because I couldn’t afford a rich man’s lawyer,” he said. “It’s wrong. It’s not justice, yet it happened to me and countless others like me.”
State Attorney General Josh Shapiro filed a motion asking the state Supreme Court to decline the case. He says the legality of the death penalty should be determined by the General Assembly — not the courts.
As Philadelphia’s top prosecutor, Krasner’s position is a stark departure from DA’s in the city’s past. Lynne Abraham, Philly’s DA from 1991 to 2010, was dubbed the “deadliest DA” for seeking the death penalty at a high rate, though none of her cases resulted in an execution.