Meet The Convicted Killers Pennsylvania’s Dem Gov Wants To Save From Death Row

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Trevor Schakohl Legal Reporter
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  • Democratic Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro said Thursday he would not sign any execution warrants during his term and called for the State Assembly to abolish the death penalty.
  • Dozens of inmates have been sentenced to death in Pennsylvania, with police officers and children among their victims.
  • “I strongly believe that capital punishment should be an option for prosecutors reserved for the most violent offenders, particularly those who have committed crimes against children,” Republican Pennsylvania State Rep. Aaron Bernstine told the Daily Caller News Foundation.

Democratic Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro is asking legislators to spare everyone on his state’s death row from execution, including those who murdered police officers and children.

Pennsylvania law requires the governor to sign an execution warrant before an inmate can be put to death, but Shapiro said alongside Democratic State Sen. Vince Hughes, Sen. Nikil Saval and Rep. Rick Krajewski Thursday he would not issue any such warrants during his term and called for the state General Assembly to move to abolish capital punishment altogether. More than 100 men are currently sentenced to death in Pennsylvania, some of them having killed law enforcement personnel and children.

“At a time when Pennsylvanians are concerned about their personal safety and the safety of their families as we deal with a historic spike in violent crime, it is clear now is not the time to stop holding criminals to the highest level of accountability for the most heinous crimes,” Pennsylvania House Republican Caucus spokesperson Jason Gottesman told the Daily Caller News Foundation. “Removing this measure of accountability and deterrence from prosecutorial discretion is at best tone deaf to the concerns of Pennsylvanians and at worst disrespectful to the victims of the most serious crimes in our society.”

Shapiro had advocated for capital punishment abolition during his campaign, and Pennsylvania’s last execution occurred in 1999, according to the Pennsylvania Capital-Star. Previous Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf instituted an execution moratorium in 2015.

A jury sentenced Eric Frein to death after he shot and killed a state police corporal and injured a trooper at the Blooming Grove, Pennsylvania State Police Barracks in September 2014 before being captured that October 30 and was ultimately convicted of charges including terrorism and weapons of mass destruction, according to court records. Frein wrote a letter to his parents prior to arrest talking of revolution and saying, “The time seems right for a spark to ignite a fire in the hearts of men. What I have done has not been done before and it felt like it was worth a try.”

Richard Poplawski received a death sentence for murdering three police officers at his mother’s Pittsburgh home in 2009 after she called the police following an argument in which she threatened to have him removed from the house, court documents show. Poplawski, who was in his early twenties, was taken to the hospital and later told two officers there, “I should have killed more of you.”

Republican Pennsylvania State Rep. Aaron Bernstine told the DCNF he opposes Shapiro’s call to abolish the death penalty in his state.

“I strongly believe that capital punishment should be an option for prosecutors reserved for the most violent offenders, particularly those who have committed crimes against children,” Bernstine argued. (RELATED: Eyewitnesses Come Forward With Details On New Jersey Councilwoman’s Unsolved Murder)

Drug addict Paul Gamboa-Taylor was convicted of murdering two of his own young children, his wife, his mother-in-law and her two-year-old daughter using a hammer in 1991 in York, Pennsylvania, according to legal records.  Gamboa-Taylor was sentenced to death the next year.

Harvey Miguel Robinson raped and killed 29-year-old Joan Burghardt, 15-year-old newspaper delivery girl Charlotte Schmoyer and forty-seven year-old Jessica Jean Fortney and raped thirty-eight-year-old Denise Sam-Cali in less than a year from 1992 to 1993, legal documents indicate. Robinson was 18 years old when he attacked the second two victims, based on Pennsylvania Department of Corrections records

A court gave Thavirak Sam three death sentences for the murders of his mother-in-law, brother-in-law and two-year-old niece, according to a court filing. Sam had immigrated to the U.S. from Cambodia.

Shapiro said Thursday his opinion on capital punishment had “evolved” since the 2018 antisemitic mass shooting at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life synagogue, which killed 11 Jewish people. Alleged perpetrator Robert Bowers has pleaded not guilty to federal charges and could be sentenced to death for those counts, according to WESA, and Shapiro admitted he initially thought capital punishment was deserved in that case.

Abolishing the death penalty in Pennsylvania would permanently spare Richard Scott Baumhammers, who murdered five people, seriously wounded another and vandalized two synagogues by shooting into them and defacing the first with spray paint in 2000, according to court records. Evidence of Baumhammers’ racist and anti-immigrant ideologies was found on his computer and presented at trial.

A jury sentenced Roger Judge to death in June 1987 after murdering two people in Philadelphia, but he escaped from custody two days after sentencing, a court filing says. Judge was arrested in Canada the next year for two Vancouver armed robberies, received concurrent ten-year prison sentences for those crimes and was ultimately deported to the U.S. in 1998.

The oldest-living Pennsylvania inmate formally sentenced to death is George Banks, who murdered 13 people including five of his own young children in September 1982, according to court documents. However, a Luzerne County senior judge 2010 decided in 2010 that Banks was incompetent to be executed “because he has a fixed, false belief, a delusion, that his sentence has been vacated by God, the governor and [former President] George W. Bush. He believes he is in prison illegally, and he should be going home,” The Morning Call reported.

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