Sen. Vincent J. Fumo

District Office

1208 Tasker Street
Phila, PA 19148

Harrisburg Office

545 Main Capitol
Hbg, PA 17120



Speech on the Floor of the Senate, May 2, 1995

These comments were made on the occasion of the execution of Keith Zettlemoyer. Mr. Zettlemoyer was the first person executed by Pennsylvania in more than 33 years.

     Mr. President, I was not planning to speak on this issue, but because the gentleman from Allegheny, Senator Fisher, raised it, I feel compelled to address it.

     I do not know if tonight is going to be a night that is going to make us all feel safe. I do not necessarily know that anyone is going to be deterred from committing another horrible act of homicide because of this, because no statistic can point to that. But I also know this: That while we are giving out praise to the Governor, if that is the kind of praise he wants, I guess we should give praise to Governor Casey, who originally signed this warrant. He was criticized for being too soft and not signing warrants quick enough. This is Governor Casey's warrant. And the Pennsylvania Supreme Court that we all criticize could have stayed it. It did not. So I guess we could give credit to the six members of that court, and the other court. So if there is that kind of praise to be given, I guess there is enough to go around.

     Mr. President, however, I think that this is a sad day for Pennsylvania. The death penalty is, very obviously, a serious punishment to inflict upon anyone, and I think that it should only be inflicted in extremely rare cases. In fact, my philosophy goes to the point that if someone has been convicted of murder and received a life sentence and was convicted of another murder while incarcerated, you probably do not have any other remedy.

     Mr. President, I would not be too proud of what we are about to do in maybe 3 or 4 hours. I really would not be, because it means that we have failed. We have failed with all the stuff we have done, because murder rates continue to go up and down at whim, crime continues to increase. What is the reason? I submit to you that the reason is that we have not done anything that addressed prevention of crime. We have a whole forgotten generation of kids out there, and they are kids, they are violent kids, they are a forgotten generation. And while on the one hand we say we want to get tough on crime, we want welfare reform, we want people not to be assisted by government anymore, those young, violent kids are still out there. And tonight's execution will be an admission by us that we have not figured out how to take those young kids and change them from being violent to being law-abiding citizens. We figured out what to do after they commit the act of violence. We have that down pat. And granted, there is some controversy about that, but we figured out how to play on the frustrations of people. We will allow them to vent their anger through State statutes and through State action, but we have not done anything yet-and I hate to be critical but it is nothing new-we have had a Special Session on Crime around here for months and I have yet to see the first crime prevention bill reported out or discussed on this floor.

      I would have hoped that tonight we would not have even talked about this horrible event that is going to occur and just let it go and be ashamed of what happened rather than mark this momentous occasion with remarks on this record. And I will predict to you that what will probably happen next is that we will have a wave of executions. We will execute people until our stomachs are filled with the venting of frustration and anger. We will have executions around here until the citizens of this Commonwealth decide they have had enough, and then it will change.

     But I also will predict to you as well that we will not deter one person from committing a violent act such as homicide because of those electrocutions, or whatever we are going to do, lethal injection, because when someone makes up their mind to commit a murder, they are beyond help. They are not worried about the consequences. They have made up a sick mind to do a sick act, and the fact that someone was executed for doing a similar act is not going to deter that person, in my humble opinion. And the other forms of homicide, out of a fit of anger, no one thinks of the consequences when they act out of a fit of anger.

     So we now begin a new chapter in Pennsylvania's history. We will begin the feeding frenzy of homicide by State government, and we will feed it for a while and some people will lose their lives. Tonight, the person being executed wants to be executed. It is almost like a Kevorkian-assisted suicide. Later on there will be those who do not want to die that way. And the media, the same media that has fed the feeding frenzy that has made our public demand this kind of action, will then rebel and people will be running for cover. But the sad part is that in the meantime, we will have probably added another 500 or 1,000 people to the list of those who have been killed by violent acts of homicide.

     It is about time that we come together in a bipartisan fashion to seriously address crime prevention. I recognize the wonderful sexiness of being tough on crime when you are running for office, and not just reelection to this Chamber but going even further, going on to higher office. But I also recognize that we have a responsibility to put our heads together to figure out a way to stop it in the first place, because whatever we have been doing for the last few decades has not done anything. People are still afraid to walk down streets at night, people are still getting killed. Until we can come on this Senate floor in Petitions and Remonstrances, or through some kind of decree, and proudly say that we have eliminated crime or we have put a great dent it crime or we have educated kids to the point that they no longer feel that they are a lost portion of society and have nothing to lose by committing kamikaze acts and killing people, until we can claim that we have made come progress in that area, all we have to do is commemorate the failure of our criminal justice system in tonight's action by our State government in assisting this person in committing suicide.

     Mr. President, it is a sad day in Pennsylvania. My prayer is that there will not be many more sad days. However, my mind tells me that in this spirit there are going to be lot more of them before there are going to be happy days in the Commonwealth.

     Thank you, Mr. President.


Copyright 2000 Sen. Vincent J. Fumo