Constant appeals make executions impossible
Our hearts go out to defense attorney Tim Burns of Ebensburg as he recovers from a punch thrown by his client, death row inmate Andre Staton, in a Blair County courtroom last week.
Staton is a man with history of violence that goes back 20 years when he stabbed a girlfriend. His marriages ended in violence as did his relationship with Beverly Yohn, the Altoona woman he murdered in 2004.
That Staton continues to commit violence in public places the spotlight on one of most persistent problems - failures - of the Pennsylvania judicial system, which is the lack of timely disposition of death penalty cases.
The death penalty is of course a matter of debate in today's society.
Some say that no civilized society, or its government, should impose the death penalty.
Just as valid is the argument on the other side which says no civilized society would remove the death penalty as an alternative because by saying no crime is worthy of death undermines the very nobility of life, permitting the most heinous and evil among us to relish the destruction and pain they have willingly caused.
Was it wrong to send the perpetrators of the Holocaust to the gallows, or to send Timothy McVey to a higher authority?
Regardless of the arguments pro and con, Pennsylvania has a death penalty. There are 200 of Pennsylvania's 50,000 inmates on death row, yet there is almost never a resolution of a death penalty case in Pennsylvania, a reality that drove the Chief Justice of Pennsylvania's Supreme Court Ronald D. Castille, two years ago, to rail against the unwanted federal public defender intervention into the state court system.
Three of the inmates are from this area: Stephen Rex Edmiston of Cambria County and William Wright and Staton, both from Blair County. Their cases illustrate the reprehensible elongated appeal system.
None of these cases are whodunnits. Edmiston directed police to the body of the child he murdered and told police they would find a "raped little girl." Wright told police who cornered him after he murdered a neighbor, "I just toasted a guy." Staton had the imprudence to stop on his way out of the courtroom to tell the family of his victim, "At least I got Beverly."
Edmiston's case is more than two decades old. Wright's case is in its 15th year, and Staton's case is well into its ninth year.
None of the trio of cases has yet to make it to a federal review, which will add even more years to the process.
The ultimate victims of the system are the victims, for instance, the family of Beverly Yohn, her children, mother, brother and others close to her, who are trying to move beyond the pain of their loss, only to be told that a day after Mother's Day 2013, Staton has badly injured yet another fellow citizen.
The man he punched said as he was being taken the from courtroom, "I was prepared to go to war for this guy."