PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — Since the late 1970s, hundreds of death warrants have been signed by Pennsylvania governors, but only three convicted murderers have been executed and none in the last 12 years.
This contrasts with states like Texas where 470 have been executed, including six this year alone or Virginia with 108 executions. Oklahoma has executed 96 and Florida executed 69.
“Pennsylvania courts pay great attention to these matters, maybe more attention than the courts in Texas because of the finality of the penalty if you’re wrong,” says criminal defense attorney Paul Boas.
Boas says state courts take death penalty cases very seriously.
“We know that there’s no room for error on the state in the event a person is executed and then we find later that he was innocent or denied a fair trial,” he said.
That’s why it will take years for Richard Poplawski to exhaust his appeals.
After Poplawski’s final sentencing in September, he has the right to take appeal of his case to the state Supreme Court. Sometimes it takes that court five to 10 years to reach a final decision and once they decide, Poplawski can go back to the local trial court and say he had bad counsel or some new evidence. When that’s resolved, he then has a federal right to go through the federal court process all over again.
“It goes on and on and on and so we have people on death row sometimes for 25 years or more,” says Boas.
Boas says, in this state, death penalty sentences often get reversed in part because Pennsylvania is the only state that does not provide state resources to local public defenders.
Boas predicts more resources would provide different outcomes.
“Either they wouldn’t get the death penalty and we wouldn’t have all this problem, or they’d get it but the appeals would be shorter because they’re would be no good issues to raise.”