The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

November 10, 2012

Stop dancing with death

Daily Item

---- — On Thursday, the state briefly prepared for the execution of a man convicted of killing a 16-year-old girl almost 20 years ago.

Hubert Lester Michael Jr. was transferred to the state prison near Bellefonte where executions are supposed to take place. But before the appointed time, predictably, an appeals court intervened, just as appeals courts have stepped in every other time a death row inmate has objected to being executed.

The commonwealth has more people on death row than almost any other state. Only California, Texas and Florida have more people sentenced to death. Three Northumberland County killers -- Brentt Sherwood, James Frey and Kevin Marinelli -- are among the 200 convicts on Pennsylvania's death row.

Pennsylvania has put to death only three inmates in the past 50 years, and all of them -- unlike Michael -- had given up on their appeals.

On Wednesday, the mother of Michael's victim pleaded with officials to follow through.

"He kidnapped her, he raped her, and then he executed her," Suzanne Eng said. "As she begged him not to kill her, he shot her three times."

Was it new evidence that prompted the courts to ignore the pleadings of a murder victim's mother?

No. The courts ruled that the execution should be postponed to allow judges time to consider obscure procedural claims and questions about the convict's mental health.

The approach is worse than either alternative -- using the death penalty or abandoning capital punishment entirely. There are legitimate reasons one could consider the repeated threat of death, a form of cruel and unusual punishment for the convicts.

The hideous charade is a tortuous experience for the loved ones of crime victims who find themselves forced to relive the trauma of long-ago crimes only to see the sentence postponed by far-off jurists.

Until the state can develop a plan to successfully carry out capital punishment, there should be no additional executions scheduled.

Pennsylvania ought to halt this pointless dance with death. The use of capital punishment is morally dubious, satisfies no one and is prohibitively more expensive than the alternatives.

No one can convincingly argue that justice is being served.