Statement by Senator John Rafferty (R-44) on Gov. Wolf’s Decision to Implement a Moratorium on Pennsylvania Death Penalty

Last Friday when Governor Wolf granted Terrance Williams a reprieve and imposed a moratorium on the death penalty in the Commonwealth I, like many, was extremely disappointed and saddened by his executive action. Mr. Wolf was elected as governor of this great Commonwealth and was thus entrusted with executing the law; a governor’s authority rests in enforcing the law, and it is not the duty of his office to substitute his judgment for that of the other two branches of government. Whether Governor Wolf likes it or not, our law provides for the execution of individuals convicted of homicide when certain aggravating factors, like the killing of children, senior citizens and police officers occur. I find it very troubling when elected executive officials in this Commonwealth substitute their judgment for that of the law.

Governor Wolf, in justifying his decision to grant this moratorium, relied heavily on a bipartisan Pennsylvania Task Force and Advisory Commission created by the Senate, entrusted with conducting a study of the effectiveness of capital punishment in Pennsylvania and reporting its findings back to the Senate. As a member of the Senate and the Vice Chairman of the Joint State Government Commission, the advisory commission responsible for administering this task force, I am in a unique position to know what this committee was entrusted to accomplish. I can say unequivocally that the intent of the death penalty group was not to be an excuse or tool for our governor to ignore current law. In my opinion, Governor Wolf, by granting this moratorium, is improperly holding our law hostage to a mere advisory group, the same group which has already been questioned by some as to whether it is unfairly skewed towards death penalty opponents. When the Senate passed the resolution authorizing this advisory group, the intent was not to mandate that its recommendations be reviewed and implemented as a precedent for following our duly enacted laws.  Indeed, in the past the Joint State Government Commission has produced some very important work but their recommendations and findings are not binding on the legislature. In my opinion, making them binding would be an unacceptable delegation of power.

Governor Wolf made a political decision to protect the worst of the worst in our society and did so at the expense of the families of the victims of these heinous crimes. This was the result of a single stroke of the pen as opposed to the accepted principles of democracy, the voice of the people expressed through our jury system, and in my opinion, is contrary to our current legislation and judicial jurisprudence. The governor may oppose the death penalty but this is far too important of a decision to rest with one person. This is a matter that should be discussed and debated with the legislature in a public fashion so that the will and opinions of the people can be expressed.


CONTACT: Ryan Boop (717) 787-1398