For Gosnell, Threat Of Execution Less Real Than It Seems

Posted On Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Now that a Philadelphia jury has convicted abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell of three counts of first-degree murder, the discussion (or at least that portion of it not consumed by abortion politics) has turned to Gosnell’s sentence.

Some reports have noted that Gosnell could face the death penalty, particularly because of the multiple murder convictions in this case.  But, as with many mainstream news reports that describe potential sentences by referring only to what the law allows, these stories often omit any discussion of whether Gosnell will ever be executed.  And on that score, the evidence suggests that he won’t.

Let’s assume Gosnell is sentenced to death (not a safe assumption by any means).  In 2010, the average time between sentence and execution for all inmates executed was 178 months, or just under 15 years.  In Pennsylvania, the waits can be even longer—the state has not executed anyone since 1999, and some inmates have been on death row since the mid-1980’s. 

Gosnell turned 72 in February.  The average 72-year-old American man could expect to live about 12 more years, as of 2007.  That number crept up to a little more than 13 years, as of 2012. 

So just looking at the actuarial tables—without taking account of specific health issues, the effects of prison conditions and other issues—it seems unlikely Gosnell will ever be executed.  Between direct review of a death sentence in the Pennsylvania Supreme Court and collateral attacks on the sentence in state and federal court, it may be decades before the state could be in position to carry out the penalty. 

And there’s a good chance Gosnell won’t be around by the time that day arrives.