Legislators propose death penalty repeal

Senate Bill 19 would change death row inmates to lifers
Sen. Gary Simpson, R-Milford, is sponsoring a bill to repeal the death penalty in Delaware. BY KARA NUZBACK
March 15, 2013

Seventeen bipartisan legislators want to eliminate the death penalty in Delaware.  Garnering support from religious leaders, family members of victims of violent crimes and other members of the public, they to introduced a bill that would repeal the death penalty.

Senate Bill 19 was introduced at Legislative Hall in Dover, March 12, before about 60 people.  The bill is sponsored by seven senators and 10 representatives from both sides of the aisle.

Sen. Karen Peterson, the bill’s primary sponsor, called the proposal simple and straightforward. “It’s time for Delaware to end the insanity of killing killers,” she said.

Peterson said the death penalty does little to prevent crime, and states with the death penalty have more homicides than those without capital punishment.

She also called the death penalty arbitrary and discriminatory.  “We also know guilty rich people don’t get executed,” she said.

Peterson, D-Stanton, said it is more expensive to execute inmates than to issue life sentences.  The money saved from outlawing executions could be used to fund public safety initiatives, she said.

Peterson also said cases involving capital punishment often drag through courts for more than 10 years, forcing victims’ families to relive the crime long after it has occurred.  Family members of victims of violent crimes were scattered throughout the Senate Chambers.

Senate Minority Leader Gary Simpson, R-Milford, who is also sponsoring the measure, said his main concern was the possibility an innocent person could be executed.  He said an average of one in nine inmates are sentenced to death are later found innocent.  “It would be bad enough if we were killing one in 100,” he said.  “But one in nine?”

Rep. Joe Miro, R-Pike Creek Valley, said inmates who are now on death row would be given life sentences, and they would have no possibility of parole.  “I think spending the rest of your life in prison is more severe than putting someone to death,” he said.

Rep. Darryl Scott, D-Dover, said, “The facts clearly support repeal.”

Scott said the death penalty is most often applied to the poor, the mentally ill and people of color.  “I want to restore justice to a system I think has lost its way,” he said.

“Revenge is not justice,” Scott said.  “I cannot fathom the feelings to lose someone to a violent crime.”

The question is not, “Do they deserve to die?” Scott said; the question is, “Do we deserve to kill?”

SB 19 would remove all language related to execution from the Delaware code.  Life imprisonment without the possibility of parole would become the ultimate punishment for first-degree murder.

Religious leaders who attended in support of repeal included bishops, rabbis and reverends from Kent and New Castle County.

Members of civic groups, including the NAACP, League of Women Voters, Delaware Center for Justice and the American Civil Liberties Union also attended the event, led by the Delaware Repeal Project.

According to a press release from the Senate Majority Caucus, Kristin Froehlich, President of Delaware Citizens Opposed to the Death Penalty, was also present.

Froehlich lost her 22-year-old brother to murder in Connecticut in 1995.

“Over the years, many have pronounced that an execution is the way that survivors of murder will be healed. They say, ‘The death penalty is for the victims.’ That is not my experience. Grieving and healing are lifelong processes with no shortcuts,” Froehlich said in the release.

Wilmington Councilwoman Sherry Dorsey Walker, spokeswoman for the Delaware Repeal Project, said if the General Assembly passes SB 19, Delaware would be the seventh state in the nation to repeal the death penalty.

The bill awaits a hearing in the Senate Executive Committee.

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