Pa. Rep. Dwight Evans joins call for Biden to commute federal death sentences | Tuesday Morning Coffee

January 26, 2021 7:06 am

The gurney in the execution chamber at Rockview State Prison in Centre County, (Pa. Dept. of Corrections photo)

Good Tuesday Morning, Fellow Seekers.

U.S. Rep. Dwight Evans, D-3rd District, is among nearly three-dozen members of Congress who have called on President Joe Biden to commute the sentences of every federal death row prisoner, putting an end to the assembly line of executions imposed during the waning days of the Trump administration.

“As members of Congress, we stand ready to work with you on your commitment to rebuilding the dignity of America,” U.S. Reps. Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass., and Cori Bush, D-Mo., wrote to Biden. “We believe that rebuilding the dignity of America requires that we recommit ourselves to the tradition of due process, mercy, and judicial clemency when it comes to matters related to the criminal legal system. For this reason, we urge you to immediately commute the sentences of all those on death row.”

All told, 35 members of Congress signed the Jan. 22 letter that Pressley and Bush sent to Biden.

In a tweetEvans said he was “was proud to sign” the letter.

“As his presidency was ending, [ex-President DonaldTrump abused his power yet again to have an execution spree while pardoning the corrupt and the cronies,” Evans wrote. “We have to do better.”

The federal government has executed 13 people since July, after it lifted a 17-year-old hiatus on executions imposed by former President Barack Obamaaccording to The Appeal, a criminal justice news website.

The heightened pace of federal executions comes even as other states have slowed or abandoned executions entirely.

Nationwide, 17 people were executed in 2020, down from 22 in 2019, according to a report by the Death Penalty Information Center, which tracks executions across the country.

And just five states – Alabama, Georgia, Missouri, Tennessee and Texas – performed executions this year. And only one, Texas, conducted more than one. The total number of executions was the lowest since 1991 and the lowest number of executions performed at the state level since 1983, the report found

Evans’ home state of Pennsylvania has not carried out an execution since 1999. In 2015, Gov. Tom Wolf imposed a moratorium on executions that remains in place to this day.

State Rep. Chris Rabb, a progressive Democrat from Philadelphia, has said he plans to reintroduce a death penalty abolition bill that failed to gain a vote in last year’s legislative session.

U.S. Rep. Dwight Evans, D-3rd District, speaks to reporters after a Pennsylvania Press Club luncheon on Aug. 26, 2019 (Capital-Star photo by John L. Micek)

Days before Biden took office, Pressley joined with U.S. Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., to announce plans to reintroduce legislation abolishing the federal death penaltyEvans also supported that legislation, according to a statement released by Durbin’s office.

As The Appeal notes, Biden has the authority to commute the sentences of federal death row prisoners. The new president also has said he wants to work to pass legislation eliminating the federal death penalty. But he has not said publicly whether he will commute the sentences of the 50 death sentences, The Appeal reported.“Death penalty opponents are hoping Joe Biden learns from history,” Robert Dunham, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, told The Appeal. “He was one of the authors of the federal death penalty act that expanded the federal death penalty from [applying to] a relatively small number of murders to one that encompasses thousands of murders each year.”

Biden has changed his tune, now saying the death penalty must be eliminated “because we can’t ensure we get these cases right every time,” the Appeal reported

Since 1973, at least 174 people who have been sentenced to death were later exonerated, meaning some people killed by the government were most likely innocentThe Appeal reported.

Pennsylvania State Capitol Building. (Capital-Star photo by Cassie Miller.)

Our Stuff.
Voters in a Westmoreland County state House district and a Lebanon County Senate district will each head to the polls on primary day, May 18, to pick replacements for Republican lawmakers who recently died: Rep. Mike Reese and Sen. Dave ArnoldElizabeth Hardison has the details on the special elections.

No pomp, zero circumstance: Gov. Tom Wolf will deliver a virtual budget address this yearStephen Caruso reports.

Facing calls for his resignation, U.S. Rep. Scott Perry, R-10th Districthas confirmed that he introduced a Justice Department lawyer to former President Donald Trump, as Trump pushed ahead with abortive plans to fire his acting attorney general and to further false claims of election fraud, your humble newsletter author can report.

U.S. Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., who challenged Pa.’s electoral vote, has called for an ethics probe of Senate Democrats who filed a similar complaint against him, Capital-Star Washington Reporter Ariana Figueroa writes.

On our Commentary Page this morning: State Rep. Frank Burns, D-Cambria, scored a big win agains the Pa. Liquor Control Board. Opinion regular Mark O’Keefe explains why he’s keeping up his fight. And with budget season approachingGov.Tom Wolf and state lawmakers must fully fund Pennsylvania’s community colleges, Elizabeth A. Bolden, the president and CEO of the Pennsylvania Commission for Community Colleges, writes.

Vanessa Garrett Harley, Deputy Managing Director, Criminal Justice & Public Safety and Mayor Jim Kenney discuss preventive initiatives aimed at reducing gun violence and gun trauma (Philadelphia Tribune photo by Abdul Sulayman)

The Inquirer
 looks at the challenges facing Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney as he tries to get an agenda derailed by the pandemic back on track.
The Post-Gazette explains how President Joe Biden’s ‘Buy American’ plan could be good news for Pittsburgh factories.
 profiles new state Senate Majority Leader Kim Ward, R-Westmoreland.
The Lehigh County Authority says it will provide financial assistance to some customers facing sewer and water shutoffs, the Morning Call reports.
With COVID-19 metrics improving, more schools in Luzerne County are resuming in-person instruction, the Citizens-Voice reports.
It’s happening at the unlikeliest of times, but a new high school has opened its doors in Peters Township, Washington County, the Observer-Reporter reports.

Here’s your #Philadelphia Instagram of the Day:


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With the Trump administration out of power, the school choice movement is facing a reckoning over its close ties to conservatives, WHYY-FM reports.
Mount Nittany Health will start online scheduling tor COVID-19 vaccinations in February, WPSU-FM reports.
Erie County Executive Kathy Dahlkemper will deliver her state of the county address on Thursday, GoErie reports.
Former Bucks County congressman Patrick Murphy is under consideration for Army secretaryPoliticsPA reports.
Trump-appointed judges are fueling an abortion debate in reports.
U.S. Sen. Rob PortmanR-Ohiohas announced he won’t seek re-election in 2022, creating an opening for Democrats, Roll Call reports.

What Goes On.
The House comes in at 11 a.m., the Senate comes in at 1 p.m.

What Goes On (Nakedly Political Edition).
Rep. Ryan Mackenzie, R-Lehigh, holds a 9:30 a.m. breakfast at House Republican Campaign Committee HQ on Third Street, across from the Capitol. Admission runs $300 to $1,000, dependent, as ever, on the depth of your desire to bask in his reflected glow.

You Say It’s Your Birthday Dept.
Best wishes go out this morning to Dustin Hockensmith and Salim Makhlouf, of PennLive, both of whom celebrate today. Congratulations, gents. Enjoy the day.

Heavy Rotation.
In case you were wondering what a rave in 1995 sounded like, the new long-player from Irish combo, Bicep, has pretty much nailed it. Here’s “Atlas” to get your Tuesday morning going, since some of you may surely feel you have the weight of the world on your shoulders. And there’s nothing like some EDM to ease that burden.

Tuesday’s Gratuitous Hockey Link.
In Monday’s only game, Vancouver clobbered visiting Ottawa 7-1 at Rogers Center. The Canucks’ Brandon Sutter scored his first NHL hat trick on the way to the win.

And now you’re up to date.

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John L. Micek

A three-decade veteran of the news business, John L. Micek is the Pennsylvania Capital-Star's former Editor-in-Chief.