The Pennsylvania Supreme Court halted the execution of George Banks yesterday, the Philadelphia Inquirer reports. One day before Banks was scheduled to die, the court ordered a lower court to determine whether Banks, a 62-year-old former prison guard who murdered 13 people in 1982, is mentally competent. Since Pennsylvania brought back the death penalty in 1978, governors have signed 293 death warrants (many individuals have more than one). Only three executions have been carried out. Though a few of those death warrants have been voided by exonerations or a reprieve, the vast majority have resulted in seemingly endless stays. Some legal observers say that illustrates how difficult it is to carry out the death penalty, especially in older cases with questions about whether a defendant received a fair trial and adequate legal representation.
Of the 225 individuals on death row, more than half have been there more than 10 years, and many have spent 15 years awaiting execution. Andrew Chirls, chancellor-elect of the Philadelphia Bar Association, said Pennsylvania’s low rate of executions to warrants issued showed that death penalty cases were “fraught with potential for errors.” The three inmates who were executed – the last in 1999 – essentially had chosen to stop fighting, Chirls said. He characterized their executions as “assisted-suicide cases.”