Jimmy Carter was president when Leslie Beasley, on parole for murder, gunned down a policeman and a bicyclist. He was sentenced to death for the slayings of Philadelphia officer Ernest Davis Jr. and Keith Singleton. The three-time killer is still very much alive and is the longest-serving inmate on Pennsylvania’s death row – the nation’s fourth largest.
The Richmond Times-Dispatch says that Frank Ansel, a former Philadelphia policeman now with the Pennsylvania attorney general’s office, had known Davis since kindergarten. It heartened Ansel and his colleagues when Beasley was sentenced. Ansel said last week: “I was a homicide detective for 17 years and had many death penalties on cases, and none of them have ever been executed. It’s like a meaningless sentence in Pennsylvania.”
The Times-Dispatch says that even the most dangerous of killers have had little reason to fear execution in parts of the United States. Despite its popularity with voters, the intent of lawmakers and the willingness of juries to impose it, the death penalty in some states has rarely been carried out against death-row inmates who want to stay alive.
That’s not the case in Virginia, where the condemned are executed with alacrity. Of the 136 people sent to Virginia’s death row between 1973 and 2001, 83 were executed. That 61 percent execution rate is the highest in the country.
Yet, in nearly three decades, the five death penalty states in the Northeast have executed just three people – all of them “volunteers” in Pennsylvania who wanted to die. No one has been executed in New Jersey, Connecticut, New Hampshire or New York, which did not enact capital punishment until 1995. The nation’s largest death row is California’s, with 625 condemned inmates. The state has executed just 10 since 1976, two of them volunteers. Nationwide, the average time from death sentencing to execution was 10 years and 3 months.