As Delaware’s General Assembly wraps up its Easter break, state representatives will pick up the debate whether to repeal the death penalty.
Senate bill 19 squeaked through the senate by one vote. Surprisingly, longtime Republican Senator Gary Simpson voted for the repeal, one of only three Republicans to do so.
“I just don’t think it’s right to take someone else’s life,” Simpson said. “I don’t think that God intended us to take someone else’s life. That’s where I fall out on this.”
The Senate Minority Leader represents Milford.
“Politically for me, it’s probably very risky and I certainly realize when I took that vote that it was a risky vote,” Simpson said. “It’s a conservative area in southern Delaware, and I fully realize that that bill could be my demise.”
In the last six years, six states have abandoned the death penalty. Should state lawmakers repeal capital punishment, that would make Delaware the seventh.
“I think if we took it to a popular vote, I’m confident that the majority of the people in the state of Delaware would support the death penalty,” said Lewes Police Chief Jeffrey Horvath.
Horvath heads up Delaware’s Police Chiefs’ Council. He believes the death penalty not only provides closure to murder victims’ family members, but also brings justice to society.
“The people that have been executed from 1976 until 2012, you’ll see that they all were heinous criminals, they were evil people and they deserved the death penalty.”
“Not all victim’s family members want the death penalty,” Kristin Froehlich argues.
Froehlich’s brother, David, was murdered in Connecticut 18 years ago. As a member of Delaware Citizens Opposed to the Death Penalty, she’s fighting for the repeal.
“It’s thrown up to society and family members as a solution that’s going to heal us and balance the scales. I have never found that to be remotely the case. I think it hurts more people than it helps. It makes us think violence is a solution to our problems, which I can only see as detrimental to all of us,” Froehlich said.
Chief Horvath says while Froehlich is entitled to her opinion, not everyone feels the same way – Ruth Ann Spicer, for example. Her son, Georgetown police officer Chad Spicer, was killed in the line of duty three-and-a-half years ago. Derrick Powell fired the bullet killing the 29-year-old. Powell is one of 17 men currently on Delaware’s death row.
“The young man that killed her son is in prison, has been sentenced to death and she would like to see that sentence carried through. She made the comment to us that his family can go to the prison and visit him on visiting day, and she has to go to a graveyard to visit her son,” said Horvath, who believes the state should let families decide whether to pursue the death penalty. “We want that option to be there for those people that maybe the world’s a better place if they’re not in it.”
“If it were my own family, one of my daughters was brutally murdered, [than] I would probably feel the same way, but I think as a society we’ve got to rise above that and realize that justice is served when you do put someone in prison for the balance of their life,” Sen. Simpson said.
Proponents of the repeal argue the death penalty costs taxpayers more than life in prison, the threat of capital punishment does not deter criminals and there’s always the possibility of a wrongful conviction.
“Our senators and now our representatives should only be concerned with the death penalty as it applies to the state of Delaware,” Horvath said. “No one has been put to death in Delaware that should not have been.”
Not only that, Horvath says the threath of a death sentence does protect law enforcement.
“When I was in the drug unit, we used to arrest guys and they would carry a certain amount of drugs because, if they got over that threshold, they knew they were going to get mandatory jail time. So that mandatory sentence for trafficking cocaine was a deterrent for how much drugs they carried on their person. So you can’t tell me that this death penalty isn’t a deterrent to some people.”
Senate bill 19 now moves to the House. If the state repeals the death penalty, it would not apply to the 17 men sentenced to death in Delaware. So far, there are no executions scheduled for this year.