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Campaign to repeal state death penalty heats up

Delaware Public Media

Death penalty repeal advocates are making one final push a day before House lawmakers debate abolishing Delaware’s capital punishment for the first time in decades.

The Complexities of Color Coalition, NAACP leaders and others spoke out against the death penalty at Legislative Hall today (Wednesday), focusing on its disproportionate effect on minorities.

Rev. Donald Morton, an outspoken critic of Delaware’s death penalty, called Thursday's debate "the most important vote in Delaware’s modern era.”

“When it comes to communities of color, we investigate too much, we arrest too much, we prosecute too much, we incarcerate too much, and in Delaware, we execute too many," said Morton, noting that passing repeal legislation would be a critical step towards serious criminal justice reform.

“We now are really upset that there is a TV show called “Murder Town.” Well, we’re “murder state” when we are murdering in the name of Delaware," said Rep. Paul Baumbach (D-Newark), also speaking about former death row inmates who have been exonerated across the country – and those who were wrongly executed.

Rep. Larry Mitchell’s (D-Elsmere) decision last week to let the bill out of his House committee revived the legislation when it seemed all but defeated.

Conservative Democrats and Republicans had bottled up the legislation for years after narrowly passing in the Senate in 2013 and 2015.

They and law enforcement lobbying groups that back them say capital punishment is a necessary tool to dissuade criminals from committing egregious acts of violence.

Mitchell, himself a former New Castle County police officer, says he will not support the legislation because of his background.

If supporters can garner the 21 votes needed to pass it, Gov. Jack Markell (D) has said he will sign it into law, repealing Delaware’s death penalty for the first time since it was reinstated in 1961.

Should that fail, the Delaware Supreme Court may soon rule the state's system unconstitutional based on a recent decision by the nation's highest court.

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