STATE - Gov. Tom Wolf's moratorium on prisoner executions could impact the case of an area man who was sentenced to death in 1991 for first-degree murder and related charges.
The Democratic governor has halted all executions in the commonwealth, citing an "error prone" justice system and "inherent biases."
The announcement of reprieves impacts only those already convicted and awaiting execution.
Michael Conforti, 60, formerly of Greentown, has been on death row since 1991 after he was convicted in Wayne County court of first-degree murder, kidnapping, rape, criminal conspiracy to commit murder, criminal conspiracy to commit rape and criminal conspiracy to commit kidnapping.
In 1993 the Pennsylvania Supreme Court affirmed Conforti's death sentence.
Wolf said in a statement the moratorium would be in place until a task force examining capital punishment in Pennsylvania issues a final report.
"If the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania is going to take the irrevocable step of executing a human being, its capital sentencing system must be infallible," said the governor.
"Pennsylvania's system is riddled with flaws, making it error prone, expensive and anything but infallible."
Wolf said numerous recent studies have questioned the accuracy and fairness of Pennsylvania's capital sentencing system.
"These studies suggest that inherent biases affect the makeup of death row.
"While data is incomplete, there are strong indications that a person is more likely to be charged with a capital offense and sentenced to death if he is poor or of a minority racial group, and particularly where the victim of the crime was Caucasian," according to the governor's statement
Wolf added, "This moratorium is in no way an expression of sympathy for the guilty on death row, all of whom have been convicted of committing heinous crimes. This decision is based on a flawed system that has been proven to be an endless cycle of court proceedings as well as ineffective, unjust and expensive."
Pennsylvania has executed three inmates since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976, the last in 1999. All were white males.
Conforti was sent to death row after being convicted in Wayne County of raping and stabbing to death Kathleen Harbison in December 1990. The 22-year-old woman was from Blooming Grove Township.
Conforti's co-conspirator, James Bellman III, 32, pleaded guilty to similar charges and later killed himself in prison.
Conforti and Bellman kidnapped Harbison outside a bar and raped and killed her.
The victim's body was found Dec. 21, 1990, in a wooded area near Gouldsboro. She had been stabbed 12 times. There was evidence that Harbison's wrists and ankles had been bound by handcuffs.
Not every agrees with the moratorium, including Pike County District Attorney Raymond Tonkin, who is prosecuting suspected killer Eric Matthew Frein.
Frein faces a potential death sentence in the fatal shooting of state police Trooper Bryon Dickson, 38, who was attacked outside of the Blooming Grove barracks last year.
In a statement the Republican district attorney said, "Governor Wolf’s unilateral and potentially unlawful action ... does not prevent my office from seeking justice on behalf of the Dickson family and the entire State Police family in the matter of Commonwealth v. Eric Matthew Frein."
Tonkin said his office filed a notice of aggravating circumstances and intent to seek the death penalty against Frein.
The action by Wolf "does not serve as any legal impediment to my office’s pursuit of justice" in the case against Frein, Tonkin said.
The district attorney added, "I am disappointed that the Governor failed to respond to correspondence from the Pennsylvania District Attorney’s Association before announcing to the Commonwealth’s citizens he is granting a moratorium on the imposition of the death penalty for those convicted of some of the most heinous crimes in the state.
"In announcing his action, the Governor has usurped the authority of the legislature and courts in setting the lawful punishment for convicted killers. This unilateral action will only cause more pain and confusion to families who have suffered the actions of the worst criminals."
Wayne County District Attorney Janine Edwards said in an email Monday that, "No one, including the Governor, has the legal right to nullify a jury's unanimous verdict and unanimous sentencing in a case in which the death penalty has been imposed."
Edwards stated, "A Governor is empowered to enforce law, not try to remake it. That is the job of our legislators. And courts in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania are there to assure the process of trial against an accused defendant is fair and constitutional."
"As a prosecutor, I have seen first hand the devastation and destruction a capital murder creates against victims, families and communities. If a crime is presented in Wayne County which presents the very narrow set of facts where the death penalty should be imposed, I will seek it."