One condemned Delaware inmate fights execution; another removed from death row

As lawyers for one Delaware convicted murderer argue for clemency, another man who spent nearly 20 years on death row has had his sentence overturned.

Robert Gattis is currently scheduled to be executed early January 20th at the James T. Vaughn Correctional Center near Smyrna.  He was sentenced to death in October 1992 for the killing of Shirley Slay, his former girlfriend.

This week, members of his legal team filed a petition for clemency with the state Board of Pardons to commute Gattis’s sentence to life in prison without the possibility of parole.  His lawyers contend Gattis was subject to ongoing sexual abuse as a child, from pre-school through adolescence, by a number of perpetrators.  According to Gattis’ attorneys, the sexual abuse was part of a pattern of “violent incest that spanned generations in his family,”

“The kind of sexual, physical and psychological abuse that Mr. Gattis suffered is precisely the kind of information that a sentencing judge and jury should know when deciding whether to sentence someone to life or death, but Mr. Gattis’s sentencing judge and jury never knew this information,” Gattis’ attorney John Deckers said.  “They did not have an accurate picture of Mr. Gattis or the crime, and clemency is the mechanism that allows the Governor to correct such mistakes in the legal system.”

  • WHYY thanks our sponsors — become a WHYY sponsor

The case for clemency also includes statements from a forensic psychiatrist who examined Gattis, and details about his relationship to his family, which includes two sons.  According to Deckers, the lawyer who prepared the mitigation phase for Gattis’s case acknowledged that he did not do a proper “social” investigation.

“Consequently, without that investigation into Mr. Gattis’s background, none of the mental health experts who were employed to review his case knew about his hellish and impoverished childhood,” Gattis said.

The Board of Pardons will consider Gattis’s case at its meeting Monday, January 9th.  Wednesday, a Superior Court judge denied a request for a stay of execution, saying that he did not have the authority to grant a stay of execution to accommodate Gattis’s Supreme Court appeal.

Meanwhile, attorneys for convicted killer Jermaine Wright are claiming vindication for their client, after his conviction and death sentence were overturned Tuesday.  Superior Court Judge John Parkins ruled that Wright received a faulty Miranda rights ruling, and that he had little confidence in the evidence against Wright.

Wright also spent two decades on death row for the 1991 shooting death of Phillip Siefert, a liquor store clerk who was shot to death during a robbery at the establishment on Governor Printz Boulevard. 

Judge Parsons will hold a bail hearing next week, after which Wright could be a free man.

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

Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal