Report: Philly a leader in death-penalty cases

Philadelphia has the third largest population of death row inmates nationwide, yet ranked lowest in Pennsylvania in how much attorneys representing those inmates got paid, according to a study released yesterday by the Death Penalty Information Center.

That means capital convictions in Pennsylvania frequently get reversed on appeal and later reduced to life sentences, due to inadequate representation, according to the Washington, D.C.-based center.

The report also found that although death penalty laws are on the books in 32 states, just 2 percent of counties generate most of the country's executions. Still, death sentences are at their lowest level in 40 years; 80 percent of U.S. counties have no one on their state's death row, only nine states carried out executions in 2012, and most states haven't executed anyone in more than five years, according to the report.

"This peculiar exercise of discretion results in enormous expenses being passed on to taxpayers across the state. Moreover, the correlation between the high use of the death penalty and a high rate of error means that courts in these states will be occupied for years with costly appeals and retrials," the report states.

High crime rates and tough state laws combine to ensure Philly keeps its capital convictions high. Anyone convicted of first- or second-degree murder in Pennsylvania automatically faces death or life-in-prison-without-parole. And Philly consistently racks up the most murders of any municipality in the state, with 331 homicides last year. (This year, though, murders are down significantly, with just 189 so far.)