Death Penalty Declines in Key Areas

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and Pima County, Arizona have been the main jurisdictions in their respective states for death sentences in the past. Now they are sending considerably fewer people to death row or seeking the death penalty less. Philadelphia prosecutors have sought the death penalty 24 times since last September, but jurors from the city have not sent anyone to death row in more than a year. In fact, the city has only secured death sentences against 4 people since 2000. In the majority of cases where jurors have chosen not to send defendants to death row, they have imposed a sentence of life in prison without parole. Cathie Abookire, a spokeswoman for Philadelphia District Attorney Lynne M. Abraham, noted: "When someone wants to plead guilty to the crime of murder, and we know that life means life in Pennyslvania, then we are all for it. It gives the family some peace of mind, because it is over. There are not going to be 20 years of appeals." (Associated Press, October 3, 2003)
 
    Similarly, the number of death sentences pursued in Pima County, Arizona has decreased by a third. "We've made a conscious effort to limit the death notices to the worst cases. We have a fuller discussion about can we - and should we - pursue death. It's a more thoughtful process," said prosecutor Rick Unklesbay. The policy shift was embraced by victim advocate Gail Leland, who stated, "I think the process and the options that we have now regarding sentencing have really been improved." (Associated Press, October 5, 2003). See Life Without Parole.