By Ashley M. Wislock and Francis Scarcella
The Daily Item
SUNBURY — The Northumberland County district attorney’s office faces an uphill battle should it pursue the death penalty against a Selinsgrove couple facing murder charges in the stabbing of a Port Trevorton resident.
Capital murder trials, subsequent death sentences and the lengthy appeals process can cost up to $3 million, three times more than those that end in life sentences.
Even if Elytte and Miranda Barbour were convicted in the slaying of Troy LaFerrara in November and sentenced to death, Pennsylvania has not executed an inmate since July 1999, and has carried out only three lethal injections since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976.
And should Pennsylvania decide to execute an inmate, it — like other states — may have difficulty in obtaining the lethal cocktail used to carry out the sentence.
The Barbours were arrested within days of each other in December after Sunbury police say they lured LaFerrara, 42, into a vehicle and strangled and fatally stabbed the married civil engineer 20 times.
After the arrests, Northumberland County District Attorney Tony Rosini was asked whether he would seek the death penalty. Rosini has said only that his office would look into it.
Pennsylvania is one of 32 states that has the death penalty. There are 18 aggravating circumstances that can lead to a capital murder conviction.
Several of those may apply to the Barbour case, including that the offense was committed during the commission of another specified felony — in this case, robbery; and if a jury decides the murder was especially heinous, atrocious, cruel or depraved, or involved torture.
However, there are other considerations that factor into whether a prosecutor decides to pursue a death sentence.
The cost is exponentially higher than that of a noncapital trial, said Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center.
“Every part of a death-penalty case is longer and therefore more expensive,” he said.
Jury selection can take weeks, as potential jurors have to be questioned not just on their thoughts about the case, but about the death penalty, Dieter said.
While varying greatly from case to case, an average death sentence costs about $3 million — from the initial trial through all the appeals, Dieter said. A life sentence may cost about $1 million, he said.
“It’s about three times more expensive (for a death penalty),” he said.
Even if one or both Barbours were to be sentenced to death, it is unlikely that a death sentence would be carried out, based on the state’s system — which Dieter called “highly inefficient.”
While Pennsylvania has the fourth-largest death-row population in the nation at 198, including four women, the state has a very low rate of execution.
Of the three inmates executed since 1976, all — including Keith Zettlemoyer, of Selinsgrove, who was lethally injected in 1995 — chose to forgo their appeals processes, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.
“No case that has gone through the whole process ended with an execution in over 40 years,” Dieter said.
That means Pennsylvania is, essentially, sentencing people to life in prison — but using the most expensive legal methods to do so, Dieter said.
“The idea is that they’re executed and from that point on, you don’t have to pay for them, but if there’s no execution at the other end, it’s a life sentence but obtained through the most expensive way in the criminal justice system,” he said. “It’s the worst of both worlds.”
Yet a death sentence can be attractive to some members of the public who believe it is the ultimate justice for a heinous act.
“When you hear the description of the terrible crime, it’s a way to evoke your gut anger and emotion,” he said. “Once the public hears that, they don’t have any mercy for the defendant.”
If Pennsylvania begins carrying out death sentences, it faces another major obstacle, Dieter said — the availability and viability of the lethal cocktail used to carry out the sentence.
Many states face a shortage of pentobarbital sodium, one of often three drugs used in carrying out lethal injections, because a global manufacturer has decided to quit selling the drug to corrections agencies.
“Pennsylvania is going to eventually face a problem that other states who are carrying out executions are facing,” he said. “But you don’t worry about that when you’re not even having execution dates.”
Costly trials, appeals result in no Pa. executions in 15 years
By Ashley M. Wislock and Francis Scarcella
Ritz-Craft to hire 60 for Mifflinburg plant
MIFFLINBURG — Sixty jobs are coming to Mifflinburg as a Ritz-Craft production facility that went dark seven years ago amid the housing downturn will come back on line during the next few months, company officials announced Tuesday.
Selinsgrove man dies when tractor flips in Chapman Township
PORT TREVORTON — A 57-year-old Selinsgrove man died Tuesday evening when the farm tractor he was driving overturned and pinned him beneath it, according to Snyder County Coroner Bruce Hummel.
'Real hero' of World War II dies
ATLANTA, Ga. — Theodore “Dutch” VanKirk, the last surviving crew member of the Enola Gay, which dropped the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima, died Monday of natural causes in the retirement home where he lived in Georgia. He was 93.
Mayor: Rental ban for drug dealers a success
SUNBURY — A controversial landlord-tenant ordinance passed by the City Council in 2012 has become one of Sunbury’s “better success stories,” Mayor David Persing said Tuesday.
Mom cited for allegedly leaving baby in car for 12 minutes
LEWISBURG — A summary citation carrying a maximum fine of $127.50 was filed Tuesday against a Lewisburg woman accused of leaving her 10-month-old baby unattended for 12 minutes in a car in Union County on July 21.
Line Mountain district, teachers $1.2M apart in contract talks
MANDATA — Separate proposals from the Line Mountain School District and its teachers union are $1.2 million apart and not getting any closer, according to Benjamin L. Pratt, the district’s labor counsel at the CGA Law Firm.
Road work: Expect traffic delays on Route 54 near Danville
RIVERSIDE — Motorists in the Danville-Riverside area are advised that a 2.2-mile micro-surfacing project on Route 54 from Riverside borough to Boyd Station in Northumberland County will begin this afternoon.
Blood trail leads to stabbing suspect in Montour County
DANVILLE — Borough police followed a trail of blood along a sidewalk, up a staircase and down a hallway that led to a moaning woman who they say knifed another woman Sunday night.
Maria Spencer charged with murdering her ex-husband
SELINSGROVE — On Monday, a little more than two years after Frank Spencer was executed outside his Columbia County home, his former wife and her father were charged in his murder and the attempted homicide of Spencer’s girlfriend.
Opponents, supporters to discuss clean air rules
DENVER — Hundreds of people are expected to attend public hearings this week in a handful of cities across the U.S. to tell federal regulators what they think of proposed rules to cut pollution from power plants.
- More News Headlines
- Ritz-Craft to hire 60 for Mifflinburg plant