Delaware’s death penalty repeal bill has gained the support of former New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson.
On Thursday, Richardson spoke to Delaware lawmakers in Dover, urging the House to release Senate Bill 19 from the Judiciary Committee and bring it up for a full vote this session. The bill, sponsored by Sen. Karen Peterson, D-Stanton, narrowly passed the Senate 11-10 last year.
Richardson said he was initially opposed to repealing the death penalty when a similar bill was introduced in his state. However, the two-term Democratic governor was ultimately successful in helping New Mexico repeal its death penalty laws five years ago.
“I believed that the death penalty served as a deterrent to some who might consider murdering a law enforcement officer, a corrections officer, or a witness to a crime,” said Richardson. “But people continued to commit such terrible crimes, even in the face of the death penalty.”
After hearing all the arguments, especially those suggesting errors in the criminal justice system, Richardson said that he had a change of heart.
“If the state, in this case, Delaware, is going to take it upon itself this awesome responsibility, life or death, then the system to impose the death penalty must be perfect and can never, ever, be wrong,” he said.
Markell ‘keeping council’
Supporters of the repeal say DNA testing can be wrong and witnesses can recant their testimony, which can change the outcome of a case.
“The potential for wrongful conviction and, God forbid, execution of an innocent person, stands as anathema to our very sensibilities as human beings,” said Richardson.
Delaware law enforcement groups, including the Delaware State Troopers Association, the State Lodge of the Fraternal Order of Police, the Correctional Officers Association of Delaware and the Delaware Police Chiefs’ Council, oppose the bill.
Gov. Jack Markell, who is usually vocal about where he stands on social reform issues, has not announced his position on the issue.
“I’ve been following it very closely. I’ve been talking to people who have come in to see me on both sides. I’m keeping my council at this moment but I will certainly be following it very closely as it continues,” said Markell during an interview last week on First.
Markell has served on the Delaware State Board of Pardons and commuted a death sentence in 2012. At present, there are 17 inmates on death row in Delaware. The state’s last execution was in April 2012.