Condemned killer asks Delaware Board of Pardons to spare his life

“I’ve tried to change.  I tried to be a better man,” Robert Gattis told the Delaware Board of Pardons, which is considering a request for commutation of his death sentence for the murder of his former girlfriend more than two decades ago. 

Gattis had the opportunity to speak before the board after earlier testimony from his attorneys, religious leaders and relatives.  Relatives of the victim, Shirley Slay, as well as prosecutors were also given the opportunity to speak.

The board is expected to send a recommendation in writing to Governor Jack Markell by the end of the week on the request for clemency.  Gattis is currently scheduled to be executed by lethal injection January 20th between 12:01 a.m. and 3:00 a.m.

John Deckers, the defense attorney for Gattis, said the judge and jury that considered the original did not hear the “haunting stories” of Gattis being abused physically and sexually as early as his pre-school years – abuse carried out by his father and step-father.  Deckers added that Gattis has shown “complete remorse.” 

Board of Pardons member Leo Strine Junior, who is also Chancellor of the Court of Chancery, pressed Deckers to tell exactly when Gattis admitted to the crime, and pointed out that early in the case Gattis said the shooting was an accident.

Deckers also said that Gattis did not disclose details about the childhood sexual abuse to his legal team until 2009.

Reverend Christopher Curry of Wilmington told the board that “the system got it wrong – Mr. Gattis is not the worst of the worst.”

Gattis’ sister and his two sons also pleaded with the board to spare his life.  Marcus Gattis, who now lives in Texas, said their father stayed “involved in their lives any way he can.”

Each relative who testified also expressed sympathy to the family members of Shirley Slay who were in the meeting room at the James T. Vaughn Correctional Center near Smyrna.

“I tried to be a better man than the night I shot Shirley,” Robert Gattis said during his statement to the board.  He added that he wants to continue to help others.

“I pulled the trigger.  I can’t take that back,” Gattis said.

Other members of the Board of Pardons include Secretary of State Jeffrey Bullock, State Auditor Tom Wagner and State Treasurer Chip Flowers.  The board is chaired by Lieutenant Governor Matt Denn.

The most recent execution in Delaware took place July 29th, 2011.

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