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In 10 months as Washington County DA, Jason Walsh seeks death penalty against 8

In 10 months as Washington County DA, Jason Walsh seeks death penalty against 8
In 10 months as Washington County DA, Jason Walsh seeks death penalty against 8 04:16

WASHINGTON, Pa. (KDKA) — Jason Walsh is a law-and-order prosecutor who is throwing the book at those accused of violent crimes. 

In just 10 months as Washington County's district attorney, Walsh is already seeking the death penalty against eight individual defendants.

It's meant to be reserved for the worst of the worst criminals. But here in Pennsylvania, it has all but disappeared. There have been only three death penalty executions since 1976, and none in this century. 

Still, Walsh is looking to add eight more defendants to an already crowded death row, noting that four are accused of the brutal deaths of infants.

"I'm very consistent and will seek the highest form of punishment for the most heinous crimes, and I can't think of anything more heinous than killing a child in such a manner," Walsh said.

KDKA's Andy Sheehan: "But even if there's no chance that that person is really going to be executed down the line?"

Walsh: "I don't know that. I don't know who is going to be in Harrisburg, and I don't make the decisions above Washington County."

Defendants like Kylie Wilt and Alan Hollis, who were accused of killing their baby and hiding the body in a wall. But despite the likelihood that a conviction won't lead to their execution, seeking the death penalty will come at considerable costs to Washington County's taxpayers. 

Under American Bar Association rules, taxpayers are on the hook to provide each defendant with special counsel and experts, costs that routinely run into several hundreds of thousands of dollars for each defendant. Housing inmates on death row is also substantially more than those in the general population. 

"I don't put a price on the head of a 2-month-old child," Walsh said. "I don't put a price on the head of seeking justice for a 3-month-old baby who was tortured or beaten to death."

But while Walsh is seeking the death penalty against two men accused of killing a clerk in Anna Lee's Convenience Store in Donora, he also seeks the same penalty against one of their alleged girlfriends. Jah Sutton was not in the store, but her DNA was found on one of the bullet casings. Her attorney contends it isn't enough evidence to charge Sutton with the homicide let alone ask for the death penalty.

"I don't believe it's a capital case," attorney Tim Dawson said. "Capital cases should be reserved for the most egregious of cases, the worst of the worst. And in Jah Sutton's case, I don't believe that to be the case."

Sheehan: "You're seeking the death penalty against Jah Sutton. She wasn't even at the murder scene in this case."

Walsh: "I'm not going to go into any facts or any specifics in regards to any specific case, but that was an execution of a man making a sandwich."

Marc Bookman, who heads the Atlantic Center for Capital Representation, opposes the death penalty on moral grounds. He said Walsh stands out in the state for his overuse of death penalty prosecutions and calls Walsh's use of these prosecutions political.

"You talk about a moral problem with the death penalty. I think everyone would have a moral problem with a prosecutor seeking the death penalty for political gain," Bookman said.

Shehan: "What about the implication that you use the death penalty to tell the voters, future voters that you're a get-tough law and order DA?"

Walsh: "This has nothing to do with politics. I would never seek any type of decision in a case based on politics."

If Walsh is successful, all eight of these defendants will be sent to death row, where they will likely not be executed and spend the rest of their lives at considerable cost to the taxpayer.

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