Year after year, surveys find that about 60 percent of U.S. citizens support executing people convicted of murder–until those those citizens become jurors. A Philadelphia Inquirer analysis of almost 2,000 Pennsylvania homicide cases filed between Jan. 1, 2007, and Feb. 3 shows that just 3 percent of first-degree murder cases that went to a jury ended with the jury’s choosing death.
A third of all first-degree murder cases ended with a sentence of life in prison with no chance of parole, the remainder with guilty verdicts on lesser degrees of homicide, guilty pleas, acquittals, or dismissal of charges. For the eight people condemned to death since 2007, it’s more likely they will die of old age than lethal injection. Just three people have been executed since Pennsylvania reinstituted capital punishment in 1978 – two in 1995, the last in 1999 – and only because all three ended appeals and asked for death. For the other 215 awaiting execution, there is life on death row – solitary confinement 23 hours a day in special units at four state prisons, some for as long as 27 years – a sentence some inmates have called “death on the installment plan.”