When Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf announced this morning that he was declaring a moratorium on the death penalty, he became the fourth governor in the last four years to halt executions in his state while expressing misgivings about the ways in which capital punishment operates.
He joined Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber (2011), Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper (2013), and Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (2014). Kitzhaber (who resigned this morning, for reasons unrelated to the moratorium) and Inslee suspended executions for their entire death-row populations. Hickenlooper’s announcement applied to only one inmate, but he questioned the system as a whole, suggesting he’ll have the same concerns should any other execution approach.
The four governors, all Democrats, followed in the steps of former Illinois Gov. George Ryan, a Republican who suspended executions in his state in 2000, saying: "Until I can be sure with moral certainty that no innocent man or woman is facing a lethal injection, no one will meet that fate."
The four Democratic governors explained their decisions in strikingly similar statements. Read together, they become a political roadmap to how an elected official navigates one of the most contentious issues in criminal justice.
It’s not about mercy:
Then, almost without exception, they voice these concerns:
Too many mistakes:
Executions are rare:
(Both were volunteers – that is, inmates who gave up on their appeals.)
(Since reinstating capital punishment, Washington has executed five inmates.)
The cost is too high:
The system isn’t fair:
The threat is no deterrent: