Pennsylvania Prosecutors Give Up Death Penalty in Murder of 4 to Learn Location of Missing Victim

Bucks County, Pennsylvania prosecutors have agreed not to seek the death penalty for defendant Cosmo DiNardo (pictured), in exchange for his confession to a quadruple murder, information implicating an accomplice, and information permitting authorities to recover the body of one of the victims. The deal was made quickly—just one week after the beginning of the investigation into the disappearance of the four young men and the discovery of three of the bodies—to end the uncertainty faced by the victims’ families. Pennsylvania defense attorney Marc Bookman said, “The defense is giving the prosecutor something compelling. He said he would direct them to where the bodies are. You’ve got four grieving families who desperately want closure, however sad that closure might be. And he’s asking for something in exchange.” All of the victims’ families supported the deal, according to Mark Potash, whose son, Mark Sturgis, was killed. “Without the confession, we would have wound up leaving a boy missing. It took about half a second for all of us to agree,” he said. Former Philadelphia District Attorney Lynne Abraham—who a 2016 report by Harvard’s Fair Punishment Project described as one of America’s “deadliest prosecutors—said that avoiding a death penalty trial and appeals would save, “hundreds of thousands, if not millions” of dollars. The deal, which won praise from both defense lawyers and prosecutors, highlights an on-going concern about systemic arbitrariness in the way the death penalty is administered: highly culpable murderers who have information leading to the discovery of additional victims or solving other murders may be able to avoid a death sentence, in spite of the seriousness of the crime, while less culpable defendants are sentenced to death for less serious murders. Earlier this year, Todd Kohlhepp avoided a death sentence by pleading guilty to seven murders in South Carolina, providing information that helped solve four cases. “Green River” killer Gary Ridgway made a similar deal in Washington in 2003, pleading guilty to 48 murders and helping investigators find the remains of numerous missing victims.

(N. Phillips and C. McCoy, “Legal experts praise Bucks deal that led to murder confession,” The Philadelphia Inquirer, July 14, 2017; T. Gabriel and A. Blinder, “After Grisly Killings in Pennsylvania, a Quick Deal to Spare Execution,” The New York Times, July 17, 2017.) See Arbitrariness.