Delaware death penalty fight not over

(AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki

(AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki

Earlier this month, Delaware’s Supreme Court ruled the death penalty unconstitutional. Some Republican lawmakers hope to resurrect capital punishment through legislation next year.

 

A group of 15 Republican Representatives and Senators has signed an open letter pledging to restore the death penalty when lawmakers return to Dover for their next session in January.

“The ruling by the Delaware Supreme Court is an opportunity to craft a new, stronger capital punishment statute that not only meets constitutional standards, but also potentially contains safeguards to further augment the high integrity of the process it will replace,” the lawmakers wrote.

The Republican lawmakers who signed onto that letter are Senators Greg Lavelle, Brian Pettyjohn, Gerald Hocker, Dave Lawson and Bryant Richardson, along with Representatives Danny Short, Deborah Hudson, Jeff Spiegelman, Steve Smyk, Harvey Kenton, Ron Gray, Lyndon Yearick, Dave Wilson, Tim Dukes and Ruth Briggs King.

Earlier this month, Delaware’s Attorney General- Democrat Matt Denn, said the state would not appeal the Supreme Court’s decision against the death penalty. “Litigating and appealing these issues – a process that would likely take years before issues of both federal and state constitutional law were resolved — would likely not only bring about the same result, but would also deny the families of victims sentencing finality.”

But Denn’s statement did express his support for legislation that could amend the state’s death penalty to correct the problems raised by the Supreme Court. Denn would support legislation “that would require a unanimous jury verdict in order to impose a death sentence, and he stands by that position.”

Delaware Fraternal Order of Police president Fred Calhoun said he was disappointed in the decision not to appeal, but not surprised. He believes there will be negative results for crime in the state if the death penalty is not restored.

“I do believe long term, whether it be 5, 10, 15, 20 years, this will have a long-term impact on society in general as we move forward.”

While is willing to back legislation to restore the death penalty, he admits it will be a difficult task.

The 15 Republican lawmakers say they’ll be working with their legal staff between now and the start of the next legislative session in January to find a way to restore capital punishment in Delaware.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.