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Pennsylvania man to be executed March 8

The Daily Review, Towanda, Pa. –

Gov. Tom Corbett has signed an execution warrant for Dustin Ford Briggs, who was sentenced to death for killing two Bradford County sheriff’s deputies in March 2004, according to a news release from the governor’s office.

Briggs, now 34, is held at the State Correctional Institution at Greene. His execution by lethal injection is scheduled for March 8.

This warrant, signed Jan. 9, is Corbett’s 11th execution warrant.

When asked for comment, Nancy Schrader, who was commissioner at time of Briggs’ arrest, said she was shocked by the news. “It’s been so long, and Pennsylvania has not had an execution in quite a while,” she said.

The last death sentence carried out in Pennsylvania took place on July 6, 1999, when Gary M. Heidnik was put to death by lethal injection after being convicted of murdering two women he had been keeping imprisoned in his home in 1988. A total of 207 persons are awaiting execution in Pennsylvania.

“It’s just been such a horrible tragedy that occurred, and you’ve got two people that are dead, innocent people doing their job, and it’s just been a tragedy all the way around,” Schrader said. “Mr. Briggs did it and a court of law found him guilty. You hate to see anyone die, but on the other hand, Mr. Briggs did it of his own free will. He chose his actions and there is a punishment for your actions.”

Briggs was convicted of two counts of first-degree murder and sentenced to death for shooting Deputies Christopher Burgert and Michael VanKuren on his father’s property along Congdon Road, Wells Township.

Burgert and VanKuren were attempting to serve a warrant on Briggs for non-payment of fines, costs and restitution. Briggs shot the two deputies when they confronted him outside his home, according to court records.

After Dustin Briggs killed the deputies, he fled. A massive manhunt ended about 36 hours later in Dustin Briggs’ arrest.

Last January, it was reported that the Pennsylvania Supreme Court upheld Dustin Briggs’ conviction and death sentence for the 2004 murder.

The court’s majority opinion, which was 76 pages, was written by Justice Debra Todd, and five other justice joined in the majority opinion.

The court’s decision to deny Briggs’ appeal was handed down on Jan. 19, 2011, according to court documents.

One of the justices, Thomas G. Saylor, wrote a four-page dissenting opinion stating that the trial court erred by refusing to suppress certain evidence.

The deputies have been remembered in various ways.

Back in September 2009, more than 100 people attended a dedication ceremony on the lawn of the Bradford County Courthouse for the memorial to VanKuren and Burgert.

Their deaths in 2004 “have left huge holes, not only in their … family members,” but in those who knew them personally through work, said Steve Evans, who was Bradford County Sheriff at the time.

“They were good men,” he continued. “They were good husbands, they were good sons, they were good public servants, and they were very good friends.”

The community has worked very hard to create the memorial, which shows that “we support our men who fight against evil,” he said.

The memorial “is a lasting symbol of the fact that the age-old battle of good and evil continues today, and sometimes the good guys suffer losses – tragic horrendous losses,” the sheriff said.

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