May 1, 2019
Sen. Muth: End Pa. death penalty
A state senator whose district includes portions of Chester, Montgomery and Berks counties joined two Philadelphia legislators Tuesday in calling for the end of the death penalty in Pennsylvania.
State Sen Katie Muth, D-44th, of Royersford, announced the introduction of a bill that would repeal the use of capital punishment in the state, alongside state Sen. Sharif Street, D-3rd, and state Rep. Christopher Rabb, D-200th, both of Philadelphia.
At a press event at the Capitol in Harrisburg, the trio contended that the use of the death penalty is too costly, is ineffective, and is arbitrarily and unfairly applied across the state and nation. It has been proven to be unsuccessful as a crime deterrent and remains a flawed system of punishment, they said.
“The risk of continuing the death penalty in Pennsylvania is a high and irreparable one,” said Muth, whose district covers the northern part of Chester County, the western portion of Montgomery County and several communities in eastern Berks County. She is in her first term, having won election in November, ousting longtime Republican state Sen. John Rafferty Jr.
“The longer we allow our justice system to hand down a death penalty sentence, the longer we continue the risk of putting an innocent person to death,” Muth said.
Added Street, “The overwhelming cost, disparate application of the death penalty compounded by human error and its historically arbitrary and racist implementation in our country make it unfit for any use in an efficient and truly just system.”
No one on Death Row has been executed in Pennsylvania since 1999.
Since 2010, states that allow the death penalty have experienced an 18-percent or higher increase in homicide rates compared to states that have abolished the punishment, according to a release. The increase shows that the threat of a death penalty sentence is no more of a deterrent than not having the penalty.
The lawmakers said they believe that allowing the courts to issue the death penalty is ineffective and unnecessary. Most convicted individuals sentenced to death typically die of old age rather than lethal injection. This is caused by the appeals process that starts after sentencing and can last decades, rendering the death penalty futile in many cases.
The legislators and advocates also shared concerns that there is the continued risk of an innocent person being wrongly and unjustly executed. “One innocent life taken at the hands of the state is one too many,” said Rabb.
Since 1978, 408 people have been sentenced to death in Pennsylvania. Of those 408, 169 were re-sentenced to life, 16 received reduced sentences to a term of years, and six have been exonerated.
In Pennsylvania, death penalty cases are brought against defendants accused of a first-degree murder — or an intentional killing committed with malice — by local district attorneys, who must certify that it fits in with one of a listed set of 18 aggravating circumstances, such as an illegal killing while committing another crime such as rape or burglary; the killing of a police officer or judge; or a killing that took place while the victim was being tortured.
In Chester County in recent years, few cases involving a local murder have been certified as capital cases. In two instances — the murder and torture of 3-year-old “Scotty” McMillan by his mother and her new boyfriend and the stabbing death of a woman by her abusive estranged husband — the death penalty option was withdrawn by District Attorney Tom Hogan in exchange for a guilty plea to first-degree murder and a guaranteed life sentence.
Since 1974, when the death penalty was reinstated in the state, only two people convicted of first-degree murder in the county remain on Death Row in state prison. They are Robert Hughes IV, who was sentenced to death by former Judge Thomas Gavin for the 1989 slaying of two employees at a McDonald’s restaurant in West Goshen, and Dennis Miller, who was sentenced by former Judge Howard F. Riley Jr. for the 1995 stabbing death and rape of his wife.
Two others who were convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to death by county Common Pleas Court juries — Darrick Hall of Coatesville, for the 1993 slaying of a Coatesville coin laundry manager, and LaQuanta Chapman of Coatesville, for the 2008 murder of a city teenager. Those sentences, however, were overturned on appeal, and now the two men are serving life sentences without the possibility of parole.
There are six men on Death Row for murders committed in Montgomery County.
Hogan, in office since 2012 and seeking re-election to a third term, did not respond to a request for comment on Muth’s bill. Neither did his expected Democratic opponent, attorney Deborah Ryan.
In 2015, Gov. Tom Wolf announced that he would declare a moratorium on the death penalty in the state, meaning that he would not sign any warrants to have prisoners on Death Row executed.
Previous governors signed death warrants, but no one has been executed since July 6, 1999, when Gary M. Heidnik was put to death via lethal injection after he was convicted of kidnapping, raping and torturing six women in his Philadelphia basement, and of murdering two of the women.
Joining Muth, Street and Rabb at their announcement were anti-death penalty advocates, including Kathleen Lucas, executive director of Pennsylvanians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty; Kirk Bloodsworth, executive director of Philadelphia-based Witness to Innocence and the first person incarcerated on death row to be exonerated by DNA evidence; and Jimmy Dennis, a Philadelphia native and constituent of Rabb’s district who was incarcerated on death row for 25 years for a crime he did not commit.
Commenting on his experience, Bloodworth stated “if it can happen to an honorably discharged United States Marine with no criminal record, it could happen to anyone.”
“There are innocent women and men in prison in this state,” said Dennis. “We must understand that criminal justice reform is a must. Abolishing the death penalty is a must.”
“I am grateful to the legislators for advocating for repeal of this failed government policy,” said Lucas. “We all want a justice system that is fair, and the death penalty is anything but. It costs millions in taxpayers’ money to prop up a system that hasn’t resulted in an execution in 20 years.”
Neither of the two state senators whose districts cover other portions of Chester County — state Sen. Andy Dinniman, D-19th, of West Whiteland, and state Sen. Thomas Killion, R-9th, of Middletown, Delaware County — nor any of the members of the county’s delegation in the state House of Representatives is currently co-sponsoring the legislation. Source
March 12, 2019
Chesco, Delco lawmakers urge Wolf to halt Mariner pipeline operations
WEST CHESTER — Pennsylvania lawmakers representing 11 House and three Senatorial districts across Chester and Delaware counties have signed a letter to Gov. Tom Wolf asking him to impose a moratorium on the transmission of natural gas liquids products through the Mariner East pipeline system until the mandated protocols are in place for local responders to properly manage a pipeline emergency.
Chester County Emergency Services and local school districts along the pipeline, including Downingtown Area School District, Rose Tree Media School District and West Chester Area School District have requested Energy Transfer Partners’ subsidiary SPLP to provide its Emergency Response Plan for the Mariner East project, which the responders and school districts need to complete their comprehensive All Hazards Emergency Response Plans and fulfill their statutory requirements under Title 35 of state law.
The letter urges Wolf to preserve the health, welfare and safety of constituents who live, work and raise their families in the high-consequence areas of Chester and Delaware counties within the impact radius of Mariner East. The pipeline also runs through Berks County.
“We have pipelines currently transporting highly volatile products through our communities, and our local first responders are not able to adequately plan their emergency response or mitigate our risk because the operator has failed to cooperate with repeated requests for their Emergency Response Plan,” said state Rep. Danielle Friel Otten, D-Chester County. “Energy Transfer Partners and Sunoco are risking a catastrophe, which is a criminal offense.
“I am grateful to my colleagues for their collaboration on this request. The bipartisan support for this moratorium underscores how important it is to take every possible step to ensure the safety of our communities and our first responders.”
The letter was signed by the following state representatives Rep. Steve Barrar, R-60 of Concord; Rep. Carolyn Comitta, D-156 of West Chester; Friel Otten, D-155 of West Whiteland; Rep. Kristine Howard, D-167; Rep. Tim Hennessey, R-26; Rep. John Lawrence, R-13; Rep. Chris Quinn, R-168 of Middletown; Christina Sappey, D-158; Rep. Melissa Shusterman, D-157; Rep. Dan Williams, D-74; and Rep. Leanne Krueger-Braneky, D-161, as well as state Sens. Andy Dinniman, D-19; Katie Muth, D-44; and Tim Kearney, D-26 of Swarthmore.
Mariner East spokesmen did not return a call for comment as yet.
The company is building and operating the controversial Mariner East project, transporting volatile liquid gases across the full width of Pennsylvania, from the Marcellus Shale region to a facility in Marcus Hook.
Residents have opposed the project for years, saying the pipeline never should have been routed through densely populated neighborhoods, in close proximity to schools and senior centers.
Mariner East 1, which is a decades old smaller pipe that has been retrofitted to carry the new materials, has been shut down for weeks since a sinkhole formed in a Chester County neighborhood for the second time.
Mariner East 2 came online the last week of December, albeit not in the form Energy Transfer originally proposed. Mariner East 2 was proposed as a 20-inch pipe, but because of constant delays and other problems, Energy Transfer plugged in a hybrid version of several smaller pipes to fill in the gaps. Completion of the full Mariner East 2 pipeline now likely will not take place until 2020.
Mariner East 2x remains under construction.
In February the state Department of Environmental Protection halted all permits for the Mariner East 2 project, saying Energy Transfer had failed to take proper actions after an accident that caused an explosion in western Pennsylvania.
Chester County District Attorney Tom Hogan last month announced he was launching a criminal investigation into the construction of Mariner East 2, noting his belief that state officials had not adequately protected citizens rights and safety. He now is impaneling an investigative grand jury to hear testimony from witnesses and review documents.
January 31, 2019
Democratic Senate colleague calls for State Sen. Daylin Leach’s expulsion
HARRISBURG — Democratic State Sen. Daylin Leach, who has faced calls to resign over allegations of sexual misconduct, now has a colleague from his own county pushing to expel him from office.
Newly elected Sen. Katie Muth (D., Montgomery) on Wednesday circulated a letter to members of the Senate Ethics Committee asking for Leach’s expulsion, contending that he has used his office to intimidate women who have accused him of sexual harassment or assault.
“His behavior is disturbing and unacceptable from a sitting elected official,” wrote Muth, who has spoken about her experience as a rape survivor and has in the past called on Leach to resign. “We must demand better of those we trust to act on behalf of this body as a voice for the people of Pennsylvania. That voice is loud and clear: This culture of rape … intimidation, and reprehensible behavior must end.”
Senate officials called her request rare, if not unprecedented. They said they could not recall another Pennsylvania lawmaker taking steps to expel a colleague, which would require approval of two-thirds of the 50 senators.
Leach declined to comment. His spokesperson, Frank Keel, dismissed Muth’s effort as “nothing more than a self-serving publicity stunt.”
Leach has faced controversy since the Inquirer reported in late 2017 that he had engaged in questionable behavior with young female staffers and volunteers — ranging from highly sexualized jokes and comments to what they considered inappropriate touching.
This month, Senate Democrats hired an outside law firm to investigate allegations by Cara Taylor, an Allentown-area woman, who has accused Leach of luring her into performing oral sex in 1991, when she was a teenager and he was a lawyer defending her mother in a criminal case.
Leach has repeatedly denied Taylor’s allegation. On Monday, he sued Taylor, along with two Philadelphia-area #MeToo activists, claiming they defamed him by peddling what he called the “fictional 1991 encounter.”
The lawsuit drew fresh calls for his resignation from some fellow Democrats, including Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, who presides over the Senate, and Auditor General Eugene DePasquale.
Leach responded in a statement saying, “I suppose the easy, knee-jerk reaction for the lieutenant governor and others is to pander to the #MeToo movement…. But I won’t be quiet while three women falsely accuse me in an attempt to destroy my career and my family.”
Reached Wednesday, Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa, a Democrat from Allegheny County, declined to comment on Muth’s request for expulsion.
“It may end up before us, so therefore I’ve got no comment on it,” he said. He added: “The Senate’s members will serve as jury and judge and, as a result, it’s not appropriate” to discuss the matter.
The Ethics Committee, with an equal number of Republicans and Democrats, operates in near-complete secrecy. Its meetings are closed and it does not publicly discuss complaints. Only in rare cases are some details released.
After it has reviewed and investigated a complaint, such as the one lodged by Muth, the committee can make public recommendations to the full Senate, officials said.
Last summer, Leach became upset when Muth declined to appear at an event with him. At the time, Muth was running a long-shot campaign against John Rafferty, a Republican senator for 15 years.
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