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Bill to repeal death penalty in Delaware returning to Legislative Hall

Delaware Public Media

The fight to repeal Delaware’s death penalty will be back in the General Assembly next week when lawmakers reconvene in Dover.

State Sen. Karen Peterson (D-Stanton) is reintroducing her bill from last session that would only allow courts to sentence those convicted of brutal crimes to life without the possibility of parole. The measure barely passed the Senate in 2013 and stalled in the House.

During debates over the past two years, those in favor of capital punishment repeatedly said that some criminals deserve the ultimate punishment, but Peterson doesn’t agree.

“Of course we don’t do that with rapists. We don’t rape rapists, we don’t cut of the hands of thieves anymore, but for death, they seem to think that that requires or justifies vengeance,” Peterson said.

The bill got a hearing in the House Judiciary Committee, but many members had personal connections to law enforcement, which is vehemently opposed to the measure. There was speculation it would be revived through special legislative rules last June never materialized.

Peterson says the bill has a better chance this year.  She says the votes are still there to move it through the Senate and that she expects it to make more headway in the House, even though opponents say the state’s justice system is stellar.

“Delaware supposedly has the only perfect system of justice in the country, or maybe in the world. I’m not sure. But I think the Jermaine Wright case is a perfect example of yes, Delaware does make mistakes,” said Peterson.

A Superior Court judge last month released Jermaine Wright from prison after throwing out his confession where the officer failed to sufficiently read him his rights.

The court also found Wright had been under the influence of heroin during the confession.

Peterson says the bill will be filed next week.