New bill would repeal Delaware’s death penalty [video]

Death-penalty opponents rally at Legislative Hall in Dover in support of a bill that would get rid of capital punishment in Delaware.

State Sen. Karen Peterson is the lead sponsor of Senate Bill 19, which would overturn Delaware’s death penalty.

“If there were any other public policy that was so expensive, so time-consuming, so discriminatory, so arbitrary, and served no purpose other than vengeance, we would repeal it in a heartbeat,” said the Democrat who represents the Stanton area.  

Peterson says the death penalty has been unfairly applied to poor minorities who can’t afford good enough lawyers.  

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“We know that rich people don’t get executed,” she said. “But the poor, the mentally ill, the drug addicted and people of color do.”

The bill also has support from some Republicans including Sen. Gary Simpson. The Senate Minority Leader who represents Milford is also a sponsor of the bill.  He says nationwide, for every nine inmates executed, one is exonerated.

“If we say that we’ve killed one innocent person out of 100, that’s one too many for me, but one out of nine is just horrendous in my view,” he said.

Opponents of repeal effort

Delaware Attorney General Beau Biden’s office issued a brief statement from Biden, who has pursued the death penalty for those convicted of the most heinous crimes.  

In the statement, Biden simply says, “My position has not changed.”

The Delaware Police Chiefs’ Council also stands in opposition of the repeal bill. The group has planned a news conference for Wednesday to release a position paper against the repeal effort, according to DPCC Executive Director Martin Johnson.  

Despite the opposition, Simpson is optimistic the bill will be approved by the General Assembly.  Although Simpson admits there are a number of constituents in his district who favor the death penalty, he believes they’ll come around.

“I don’t think that we will have an uphill battle,” Simpson said. “I know that there are a lot of people, especially in my district that are pro-death penalty, and I’m hopeful that we can present enough facts that we can change their opinion about carrying through on the death penalty in Delaware.”

Death-row facts

Currently, there are 17 men on Delaware’s death row.  The last person executed in Delaware was Shannon Johnson, who died by lethal injection in April 2012.   

Delaware carried out death penalty executions by hanging until the mid 1990’s.

Billy Bailey was convicted in 1980 for the murder of 80-year-old Gilbert Lambertson and his 73-year-old wife, Clara.  Delaware adopted lethal injection as a death penalty execution in 1986, but Bailey had the option of asking for hanging. The gallows were dismantled in 2003.

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