Last Phila. Death Penalty Case Ends With Life Term

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On Tuesday, Philadelphia elected a district attorney who pledged to take the death penalty off the table. Two days later, prosecutors asked a jury to impose it one last time, on Robert Lark, 63, who has already spent more than three decades on death row for a 1979 murder of a restaurant owner. The jurors, who found Lark guilty of murder, sent a note to Judge Steven Geroff after an hour of deliberations: “We are at a deadlock. Nobody is budging, and there won’t be a unanimous decision.” That meant Geroff would have to sentence Lark to life in prison with no possibility of parole, reports

Lark was first convicted in 1985. That verdict was overturned based on Lark’s claim that the prosecutor used race-based practices in jury selection. A majority of Pennsylvanians no longer support capital punishment, according to a 2015 York College of Pennsylvania poll. One complaint is that so-called death-qualified juries are inherently biased, and studies have shown such juries inherently are more likely to convict. No one has been executed in Pennsylvania since 1999. Since 2015, Gov. Tom Wolf has maintained a moratorium on executions.The jury’s decision means Lark will move from death row — where for 32 years he has been kept in his cell for 23 hours a day, into the general prison population.

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