The flaws in Pennsylvania’s death-penalty system are so pervasive that the state risks executing an innocent person, charges an American Bar Association study reported by the Philadelphia Inquirer. The ABA urged changes it said could reduce the likelihood of false confessions, crime-lab errors, witness misidentification, and racial disparities. Since 1986, three inmates had been executed in Pennsylvania while five have been exonerated and released from death row. The study’s authors – five prominent Philadelphia-area lawyers, including a prosecutor and a judge – stopped short of calling for a moratorium on executions. They asked Gov. Ed Rendell to order a more comprehensive state study.
The dozen changes the ABA said would improve the accuracy and integrity of murder investigations included requiring police to videotape interrogations and witness identifications and to preserve DNA evidence indefinitely. The ABA urged the state to adopt uniform standards for lawyers who represent the poor, including the appointment of two qualified attorneys at every stage of the process and salaries that match those paid to prosecutors. Since 1997 the ABA has called for a moratorium on executions “until fairness and accuracy – due process – are assured in death-penalty cases.” Philadelphia prosecutor Ronald Eisenberg said the ABA report was tainted. “The ABA is against the death penalty, and they ought to be honest about that,” he said.