Sadie Gurman's article ("Woman Vulnerable, Mom, Sister Remember," May 14) on the family of Jennifer Daugherty, a mentally challenged woman from Westmoreland County who was brutally murdered, illustrates the need for tougher penalties and additional resources for district attorneys to use against those who commit such heinous crimes against our most vulnerable citizens. As lawmakers, we must ask how we can prevent such a terrible event from occurring again.
I introduced House Bill 907 in 2008 to try to address this issue after the brutal murder of 78-year-old Upper St. Clair resident Jean Heck. Under current law, prior to sentencing procedures, the court instructs the jury on any aggravating circumstances which must be considered when deciding on the most appropriate form of punishment for the perpetrator. Families of murder victims can address juries during sentencing only if the crime falls under these circumstances. My legislation would amend the Judicial Code to add senior age (over age 60), infirmity or disability as aggravating circumstances to a first-degree murder conviction.
The legislation is designed to ensure that prosecutors have the resources necessary and ability to impose the stiffest penalties possible during the sentencing process. In Pennsylvania, other aggravating circumstances include murder for hire or if the victim was tortured, held for ransom, under age 12 or a member of law enforcement or a judge. My bill sends a clear signal to potential perpetrators that you cannot prey upon and target our most vulnerable neighbors.
STATE REP. MATTHEW H. SMITH
The writer, a Democrat, represents the 42nd Legislative District.