House resolution urges Wolf to reverse death penalty moratorium
HARRISBURG — Tricia Wertz lost her husband to a gunman’s bullet in 2006.
“I hope to see Scott’s killer put to death in my lifetime,” said Wertz, 44, a mother of two from Reading.
She joined lawmakers, district attorneys and other victims’ families on Wednesday to back a House resolution urging Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf to reverse his recent suspension of Pennsylvania’s death penalty.
Cletus Rivera is on death row, convicted of killing Scott Wertz, a plainclothes Reading police officer shot while responding to a convenience store fight.
The state Supreme Court agreed to hear a challenge to Wolf’s moratorium on executing 186 murderers on death row, filed by Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams, though it’s not clear when the court will hear the case. Dauphin County District Attorney Ed Marsico said other prosecutors would file to support Williams’ action, probably next week.
“The governor is standing with some of the worst criminals in Pennsylvania and against their victims,” said Rep. Mike Vereb, R-Montgomery County, the resolution’s sponsor. Because it is a resolution and not a law, “Sure, the governor can ignore it,” Vereb said.
Wolf’s spokesman Jeffrey Sheridan said Wolf’s decision “is in no way an expression of sympathy for the guilty on death row, all of whom have been convicted of committing heinous crimes and all of whom must be held to account.” He said the governor appreciates the work of victim advocates and sympathizes with victims and their families.
But Vereb said passage of the resolution would assure victims’ families that “at least 102 members are supporting you” — the number of votes needed to pass a bill in the 203-member House.
The House Judiciary Committee will hear from both sides of the issue March 26 in Philadelphia.
Marsico said he and other death penalty supporters believe it requires a state law to block executions.
Pennsylvania has executed only three inmates since restoring the death penalty in 1976 and again in 1999. All three voluntarily stopped appeals.
Wolf announced the executive action after granting a reprieve to inmate Terrence Williams, who is on death row for the 1984 beating death of a man in Philadelphia. Wolf said the state’s death penalty system is error-prone and expensive. He plans to issue reprieves while a legislative panel studies the issue.
Wertz said she supported Wolf for governor, though she did not vote because she was away from home. She would vote for him again, she said, because she likes his stance on other issues such as education.
Brad Bumsted is Trib Total Media’s state Capitol reporter. Reach him at 717-787-1405 or [email protected]. The Associated Press contributed.