- Associated Press - Tuesday, July 21, 2015

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) - Pennsylvania’s governor argued in a court filing Tuesday that he has nearly unlimited power to grant reprieves to death row inmates, and he asked the state Supreme Court to deny a challenge to his use of that authority.

Gov. Tom Wolf’s lawyers were responding to a request by state Attorney General Kathleen Kane, a fellow Democrat, that the justices nullify his moratorium on executions. They said the “broad and unfettered executive power” has been in practice since the 17th century.

“Because the governor’s power of reprieve is not otherwise limited by the Pennsylvania Constitution, this court has no cause to intervene or restrict the governor’s exercise of this purely executive power in this case or any other,” his lawyers wrote.

Wolf said the legal issues raised by Kane’s office in the case of convicted killer Hubert Lester Michael Jr. are similar to those already pending before the Supreme Court in a separate reprieve, issued for inmate Terrance Williams, that is being challenged by Philadelphia’s district attorney.

Wolf wants the court to deny the attorney general’s petition or put it on hold until the Philadelphia case is heard, partly to avoid duplication and avoid wasting judicial resources. Oral arguments in the Williams reprieve challenge are scheduled for September.

“The legal issue raised by and the arguments advanced in the attorney general’s petition are fundamentally indistinguishable from those presented” in Williams’ case, Wolf’s lawyers said.

Kane spokesman Chuck Ardo said the attorney general’s office was reviewing Wolf’s response but feels strongly that “one size does not fit all in this matter. And we will continue to seek justice.”

Kane, in her petition filed two weeks ago, argued Wolf’s action was blatantly unconstitutional and a threat to the justice system. Wolf announced the policy of reprieves shortly after taking office this year, calling the current death penalty system “error-prone, expensive and anything but infallible.”

He said he would continue to issue them for imminent executions at least until he receives the results of an overdue report by a legislative commission on the death penalty in Pennsylvania.

Michael is on death row for shooting 16-year-old Trista Eng in York County in July 1993.

Pennsylvania has executed only three people since the death penalty was legalized in the 1970s, the most recent in 1999.

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