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Legislators drop death penalty repeal ahead of Supreme Court decision

Delaware Public Media

Lawmakers are shelving attempts to repeal Delaware's death penalty in the General Assembly in favor of waiting for a decision by the state Supreme Court.

Rep. Sean Lynn (D-Dover) and Sen. Karen Peterson (D-Stanton), chief sponsors of the bill, won't push the bill forward in the House after it failed there in late January. Supporters could have brought it back to a vote through a procedural move.

"It only makes sense for the General Assembly to wait for the Delaware high court to rule before we decide on further action," Peterson said in a statement.

Superior Court Judge Paul Wallace requested the review by the Delaware Supreme Court after the United States Supreme Court found portions of Florida's capital punishment system unconstitutional. Some aspects of the program share similarities with Delaware's system – most directly, juries don't have control over the final punishment levied by a judge.

Despite having spearheaded the effort for the past three years, Peterson says she doesn't care how abolishing the state's death penalty is accomplished.

“Repealing the death penalty is repealing the death penalty. Whether it’s done by the legislature or the state Supreme Court. It doesn’t matter to me. What matters is that we stop killing people in the name of the state,” she said.

All 39 of Delaware's death penalty cases are on hold following Superior Court President Judge Jan Jurden issuing a stay in February while the high court mulls over their decision.

That request came two days before House lawmakers rejected repealing the death penalty 16-23, with some saying they should wait for justices to rule on the matter.

Efforts to abolish capital punishment in Delaware have gained some momentum since being revived in 2013 – passing the state Senate twice since then. But it hasn't been enough to overcome a strong wave of opposition from law enforcement groups that have lobbied relentlessly against the bill.

Justices could make a ruling by summer.

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