Gov. Wolf on Tuesday asked the state Supreme Court to ignore Attorney General Kathleen G. Kane's challenge to his death-penalty moratorium, arguing that the justices had already decided to consider a similar petition brought by the Philadelphia district attorney.
In a court filing that responds to Kane's petition, Wolf also repeated the claim he has made since February: That he has the right under the state constitution to temporarily stay executions as he awaits a Senate report on capital punishment.
The death-penalty issue has presented yet another challenge to Wolf, this time from fellow Democrats, as he tries to carry out a sweeping agenda that sharply contrasts with that of his Republican predecessor.
The first-year governor is in a protracted fight with Republicans over his budget, now three weeks overdue. He's also tangling with the GOP in the state's courts over the director of Pennsylvania's Office of Open Records, Erik Arneson, whom Wolf fired in January.
Commonwealth Court reinstated Arneson last month, saying the governor overstepped his authority. Wolf is appealing the case to the Supreme Court.
Kane filed her petition before the high court on July 6, asking the justices to allow the execution of Hubert L. Michael Jr., a York County man who confessed to murdering a teenager two decades ago. Kane, a Democrat, said Wolf abused his powers, ignoring state law and a jury's verdict, when he issued temporary reprieve to the killer.
"Our hope is to present our case on behalf of the victim's loved ones," said Kane spokesman Chuck Ardo. "Philadelphia's petition does not cover the same ground as ours. They're different cases, and we have different interested parties."
Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams, also a Democrat, argued against Wolf's moratorium in February regarding Terry Williams, who was sentenced to die in 1984 for the killing of Amos Norwood, a Germantown church volunteer. The state Supreme Court decided in March to review Williams' petition, scheduling a Sept. 10 hearing.
Regarding Kane's filing, Wolf's attorneys on Tuesday argued that "judicial economy would be frustrated by requiring the parties to submit redundant briefing each time a prosecutor challenges a gubernatorial reprieve."
Currently, 186 people are on death row in Pennsylvania. Only three people have been executed since Pennsylvania reinstated capital punishment in 1978. The last execution, in 1999, was of Gary R. Heidnik, who kidnapped and then raped and murdered women in his Philadelphia basement in the 1980s. Heidnik and the other men who were executed before him in 1995 had ended their appeals and asked to be put to death.
Wolf issued his moratorium a month after taking office, saying it would continue until after he gets the report of a bipartisan Senate committee task force studying the future of capital punishment.
"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," Wolf said in February.