Death sentences rare
.By Justin Strawser
SUNBURY - Some 18 "aggravating circumstances" in the Sunbury homicide of Troy LaFerrara has prosecutors considering the death penalty for defendants Elytte and Miranda K. Barbour.
History, however, suggests that's an unlikely outcome in Pennsylvania, even if the young married couple are each convicted of first-degree murder.
There are 189 inmates on death row in the state, but only three individuals have been executed since 1978, all of which were done by lethal injection; and a woman has not been executed in the state since 1946.
Calling Pennsylvania "particularly strange," Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information (DPI) Center, said the state has the fourth highest number of inmates on death row, but is ranked 26th in the nation as far as carrying out those sentences.
The Barbours, who moved to Selinsgrove from North Carolina a few weeks prior to LaFerrara's Nov. 11 death, are set for formal arraignment Jan. 21 after they each pleaded not guilty and had charges of homicide and robbery, among others, bound to court on Friday. It's expected they will both seek trials.
The death penalty issue must be addressed before the defendants' formal arraignment. District Attorney Tony Rosini said last week he has not yet decided if he would seek the death penalty, but noted there are 18 aggravating circumstances that apply. He said torture and the fact that LaFerrara's murder was committed during the course of another felony offense are applicable. Also, police said Elytte Barbour's confession included details that they killing was planned, meaning premeditation is another aggravating circumstance.
Miranda Barbour, 19, who was charged Dec. 3, first told police she acted alone. She said she arranged to meet LaFerrara, 42, of Port Trevorton, through Craigslist to provide companionship in return for money. They met at the Susquehanna Valley Mall and drove to Sunbury, but when LaFerrara began to grope her and put his hand on her neck, she stabbed him, she told police. An autopsy showed he was stabbed approximately 20 times.
Elytte Barbour, 22, who was charged three days later, told a different story. He said he hid under a blanket in the back seat of his wife's car and when she gave a pre-planned signal, he put a cable around LaFerrara's neck and strangled him while his wife stabbed him. They had tried to kill others, according to the affidavit, but those didn't work out, Elytte Barbour told police.
In each case, police said the couple admitted to taking the victim's wallet.
Three waived appeals
Dieter, whose DPI center is a nonprofit organization serving the media and the public with analysis and information on issues concerning capital punishment in the United States, said many death sentences get overturned and changed to life sentences.
Also, he said, the three who have been executed in Pennsylvania via lethal injection since 1978 have all waived their rights to the appeals process.
The last person to be executed in the state was Gary M. Heidnik in 1999. Heidnik kidnapped, tortured and raped six women and kept them prisoner in his Philadelphia basement before killing them.
The last woman in the state to be put to death was Corrine Sykes in 1946. Sykes stabbed Freda Wodlinger to death and took money, jewelry and property from a Philadelphia home.
Of total homicides in the nation, 10 percent are committed by women, 2 percent of people on death row are women and less than 2 percent of women on death row have been executed, Dieter said.
Since 1976, of 1,359 executions carried out in the U.S., 13 - less than one percent - were women, Dieter said.
He said it's difficult to "draw inferences or biases" when it comes to convicting women and sentencing them to death since the numbers are so small.
"We don't have strong evidence that suggest juries are biased. The crimes are not often comparable to men who get the death penalty," he said.
Women are less likely to commit the more "horrendous and egregious" murders, which would include robbery, rape, serial killings or a lifetime of crime, he said.
3 women on death row
The three women on death row in the state right now are Michelle Sue Tharp, who murdered her 7-year-old daughter in Burgettstown (Washington County) and was sentenced in 2000; Shonda Dee Walter, who murdered an 83-year-old man in Lock Haven (Clinton County) and was sentenced in 2005; and Carolyn A. King, who murdered a 74-year-old man in Palmyra (Lebanon County) and was sentenced in 1994.
Henry P. Fayh, convicted in 1981 for the torture, murder and rape of his 12-year-old Philadelphia County neighbor, and sentenced in 1983, has spent the longest time on death row, 30 years.