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Legislators approve removing the death penalty from Delaware law

State Sen. Kyle Evans Gay (D-Talleyville)
Sarah Petrowich
Delaware Public Media
State Sen. Kyle Evans Gay (D-Talleyville) speaks on removing capital punishment from Delaware law on Thursday in the Senate Chamber at Legislative Hall.

After an emotional round of debate Thursday, Senate lawmakers vote to remove capital punishment from state code.

The legislation follows a 2016 Delaware Supreme Court decision ruling the death penalty unconstitutional because it empowers judges, rather than jurors, to find the necessary facts to impose a death sentence.

Since that decision, Delaware has been unable to impose the death penalty, but it remains in state code. This legislation would change that.

State Sen. Eric Buckson (R-Dover South) introduced his own legislation last year to keep capital punishment intact by fixing the jury technicality and increasing the findings threshold from beyond a reasonable doubt to beyond all doubt.

“The history of the death penalty in Delaware is a bad one. We want to get away from it at all costs, but while saying that, we still want to maintain a very narrow lane for those individuals that deserve justice because, as Sen. Brown said, there’s a victim, and the victim has a right to weigh in," he said.

Buckson’s bill never received a committee hearing.

Several Republican senators also spoke in opposition of removing capital punishment entirely, saying they should focus on making it constitutional or create an exemption for the murder of law enforcement.

But Evans Gay says this bill is not about whether the death penalty should be brought back, but rather aligning state law with the Delaware Supreme Court’s ruling.

“I know we have focused on whether the death penalty should be used in Delaware, but currently this statute is unenforceable. Removing it ensures that it is out of our – it is a cleanup statue – is out of our code.”

The bill passed with no Republican support and one Democratic senator defecting, State Sen. Darius Brown (D-Wilmington).

It heads to Gov. John Carney, who has not yet indicated if he will sign the bill.

Before residing in Dover, Delaware, Sarah Petrowich moved around the country with her family, spending eight years in Fairbanks, Alaska, 10 years in Carbondale, Illinois and four years in Indianapolis, Indiana. She graduated from the University of Missouri in 2023 with a dual degree in Journalism and Political Science.
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