Senate Bill 19 finished the legislative session stuck in the House Judiciary Committee

DE Repeal: “June 30th has come and gone, and it looks like SB 19 won’t be passing this session. But we are so proud of all the amazing progress we have made in the past two years!

Our work continues and we certainly are not stopping here. Thank you for sticking with us and for all of your continued support. Here’s to a new year of abolition!!”

Advertisements

Statements by Delaware Community Leaders Responding to Delaware Supreme Court Unanimous Reversal of Conviction and Death Sentence of Jermaine Wright

Statements by Delaware Community Leaders Responding to Delaware Supreme Court Unanimous Reversal of Conviction and Death Sentence of Jermaine Wright

Wilmington (May 21, 2014) – On Monday, May 19th, in a 5-0 unanimous ruling, the Delaware Supreme Court overturned the conviction of death row prisoner Jermaine Wright, citing a “miscarriage of justice.” After 21 years, Mr. Wright was the longest serving inmate on Delaware’s death row.

With no physical evidence linking him to the crime, Mr. Wright was convicted on the basis of a false confession extracted over the course of 13 hours of confinement and ten hours of interrogation, during which he was high on heroin. The Superior Court found, and numerous nationally recognized experts have testified, that the confession, which conflicts with the evidence collected in the case, is not credible and that Mr. Wright’s ability to waive his Miranda rights was impaired. The only other evidence presented against him was the now-discredited testimony of a jailhouse snitch, who had a history of cooperating with the prosecution and later revealed that he believed he would receive leniency in sentencing for his testimony.

The Delaware Repeal Project is a coalition of organizations, community partners, faith leaders and individuals dedicated to repealing the death penalty in Delaware through the passage of Senate Bill 19. We have 29 partner organizations, including the ACLU of Delaware, the NAACP, the League of Women Voters, and Delaware Center for Justice, as well as the Bishops and leaders of the largest religious organizations in our state. Members of the Delaware Repeal Project today issued the following statements.

Statement by Senator Karen E. Peterson (D – Stanton)

The Jermaine Wright case proves that Delaware’s death penalty system is just as flawed as any other states’. This was a textbook case of wrongful conviction—no physical evidence, false snitch testimony, a coerced confession that didn’t even line up with the facts of the case, and prosecutorial misconduct. It is time for us to turn our back on this broken system and bring Senate Bill 19 to the House floor for a full debate and vote. We cannot risk executing an innocent person for a crime they did not commit.

Statement by Sherry Dorsey Walker, 6th District Council Member, City of Wilmington and spokesperson for the Delaware Repeal Project

For close to two years now, the coalition partners of Delaware Repeal have been educating the community and engaging in a dialogue about the death penalty in Delaware. The facts are on our side—the death penalty does not deter crime or keep our community safe; it is unfairly applied to poor people, people of color and the mentally ill; it is exorbitantly expensive and wastes state resources; and it risks executing an innocent person.

Until yesterday, the risk of executing an innocent person in Delaware was brushed aside. However, the case of Jermaine Wright proves that Delaware does make mistakes when it comes to the criminal justice system. When dealing with the severity of a death sentence, we cannot afford to make mistakes.

We call on the House of Representatives to bring Senate Bill 19 to the floor for a full debate and vote. We call on the General Assembly and Governor Markell to end Delaware’s flawed death penalty immediately.

Statement by Kristin Froehlich, Board President, Delaware Citizens Opposed to the Death Penalty:

The members of Delaware Citizens Opposed to the Death Penalty are pleased with the Delaware Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Jermaine Wright’s wrongful conviction and death sentence. We have heard so often from death penalty supporters, “Delaware does it right. Delaware doesn’t make mistakes.” This reversal demonstrates that Delaware’s death penalty process is indeed flawed. The time, money, and financial resources that went into convicting and sentencing Mr. Wright were merely an effort to win a case, not to find the true killer and hold him accountable. This reversal confirms once again that Delaware’s death penalty is ineffective, with more than 1/3 of death sentences in Delaware being reduced or overturned.

Although we are pleased for Mr. Wright and his family, we are mindful of the suffering this decision gives to the family of murder victim Philip Seifert. The legal finality that would allow them some peace has been shattered again. As long as we tell families that the death penalty is going to heal their pain, we are setting them up for more suffering.

We need to be vigilant that we are not convicting the wrong person, both for the sake of the defendant, but also for victims’ families. If we don’t find the real killer, then we also put our communities at risk of more violence.

We ask that the Attorney General not retry this case and instead focus on reducing violent crime in Delaware.

Statement by Kathleen MacRae, Executive Director, ACLU of Delaware:

Delaware must face the fact that the state’s so-called criminal “justice” system is severely and chronically flawed. The case of Jermaine Wright illustrates a failure of justice dating back over 20 years. Prosecutors and police violated the Constitution and ignored evidence in order to close a case and get a win. Mr. Wright’s life has been spared, not because of the system, but in spite of the system. We should be profoundly thankful to the judge and justices who decided to overturn his conviction because of repeated errors and withheld evidence. They have kept us from executing an innocent man.

Unfortunately, the death penalty system is not Delaware’s only problem. Evidence stolen and replaced in the Medical Examiner’s Office has undermined the validity of hundreds of drug convictions. The severe underfunding of the Public Defender’s office has led to thousands of poor Delawareans represented by legal counsel who are spread too thin when facing serious prosecution or not represented at all, in direct violation of their Constitutional rights.

We need to repeal the death penalty in Delaware immediately. We have too many other criminal justice challenges to confront and remedy. We should not be wasting further time, talent and money on continued use of the death penalty in Delaware.

Statement by President Richard Mouse Smith, Delaware State NAACP Conference of Branches

The Delaware State NAACP Conference of Branches has historically opposed the death penalty for a variety of reasons, including racial disparities in how it is applied, which is particularly egregious in Delaware. The fact that Jermaine Wright, a black man with impaired mental capacity, was coerced into a false confession while evidence of other suspects in the crime was suppressed does not surprise us. The fact that a jailhouse snitch was instrumental in securing this conviction does not surprise us. There can be no more excuses. Delaware nearly executed an innocent black man. The NAACP of Delaware demands that Senate Bill 19 be brought to the House floor for an up or down vote in the current session. Any legislator who opposes repeal of the death penalty under these circumstances is risking further miscarriages of justice, and that is simply unacceptable.

Statement by Rev. Dr. Silvester S. Beaman, President, Interdenominational Ministers Action Council

As leaders in the faith community, and particularly in the African American community, the Interdenominational Ministers Action Council (IMAC) stands all too often with the victims of homicide and their families. As we hold them in love and prayer, we express renewed concern at the possibility of wrongful incarceration and execution in Delaware. When the wrong person is held accountable, the guilty remain free to create more victims. IMAC is particularly concerned now that the Delaware Supreme Court has recognized such injustice as to vacate the conviction and death sentence of Jermaine Wright. We urge that the death penalty be removed as a sentencing option so that the only ultimate punishment used in Delaware is that which the vast majority of killers already receive: life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. Life imprisonment keeps us safe, it is severe punishment, and if we find that we have made a mistake, we can release an innocent person. One cannot release someone from a grave.

Statement by Rabbi Yair D. Robinson, Congregation Beth Emeth, Wilmington

In light of the Delaware Supreme Court’s unanimous ruling in the Jermaine Wright case, we cannot avoid the question: how many innocent people have been executed in our name? Delaware law, despite its attempts at safeguards, cannot guarantee accuracy. Problems of coerced confessions, false witnesses, mishandled physical evidence, and questionable testimony may exist, despite best efforts, compromising truth and justice. Even if more stringent rules of evidence were put in place, the possibility for error remains. The only safeguard against mistaken executions is no executions. It is time to pass Senate Bill 19.

#####

Rep. Darryl Scott responds to reversal of Jermaine Wright’s conviction and death sentence

Delaware State Rep. Darryl Scott, House sponsor of SB19 to repeal Delaware’s death penalty, responds to the Delaware Supreme Court’s reversal of Jermaine Wright’s conviction and death sentence.

I issued the following statement today in response to Monday’s decision by the Delaware Supreme Court to reverse the murder conviction and death sentence of Jermaine M. Wright.

This decision from the Delaware Supreme Court highlights an important flaw in our criminal justice system, one even the best systems possess: No criminal justice system is perfect. No criminal justice system is infallible. It is possible, even in cases that receive as much scrutiny and have the highest burden of proof, that mistakes can be made.

We must remember that justice does not only mean convicting those who are guilty, but also acquitting the innocent and ensuring that all receive a fair trial. If we cannot guarantee that, how can we take a person’s life?

Since we introduced Senate Bill 19 last year, opponents have said that we do not need to repeal the death penalty in Delaware in part because we do not have the problems other states have had and we haven’t exonerated a man sentenced to death row like Maryland. Now we have evidence that a Delaware jury convicted and a judge sentenced Jermaine Wright to death in a case where the prosecution withheld evidence that would have had a material impact on the outcome of the trial. Had the Supreme Court not reversed Wright’s conviction, Delaware might very well have sent a man unfairly convicted to his death.

When do we as a society have enough evidence that this is an inherently flawed system? When we actually execute an innocent person? Smart government is legislating to prevent tragedies like this, not waiting for one to happen and then passing a law to fix it. We have an opportunity to prevent this type of error from ever occurring again by bringing SB 19 to the House floor for a vote to repeal the death penalty.

Don’t allow feelings to cloud judgment about death penalty

Don’t allow feelings to cloud judgment about death penalty – click on this link to access the online letter and its comments

5/21/14 News Journal Letter to the Editor by Kristin Froehlich, sister of a murder victim and Board President of Delaware Citizens Opposed to the Death Penalty

In response to his editorial “Should Delaware Still Have the Death Penalty?” John Sweeney asks us to debate some hard questions about the death penalty. I welcome a forthright discussion. However, I warn against getting mired in how we “feel.” Feelings are what have kept us from addressing the realities of Delaware’s death penalty as it is practiced. Feelings are what keep the death penalty on the books when Delaware has the 8th highest murder rate in the country. Feelings are what keep legislators from discussing the systemic bias in Delaware’s death penalty. Feelings are what blind us to Delaware’s death penalty failure rate (more than 1/3 of death sentences are reduced to life without parole.) Feelings are what prevent the true financial costs of the death penalty in Delaware from being disclosed. Feelings are what promote the death penalty as “the” answer for victims’ families when the vast majority of families will never have access to it. Feelings are what keep law enforcement and corrections leadership staunchly supporting the death penalty while they go begging for personnel, raises, and resources. Feelings are what keep Senate Bill 19 stuck in the House Judiciary Committee instead of allowing the facts to be debated before the full House. I “feel” disgusted that this barbaric practice remains common in Delaware, but I know my feeling is not relevant to people who disagree with me or to decision-makers. Let’s take up John Sweeney’s challenge and discuss the hard questions.

Letters: Release repeal bill from Judiciary Committee, and State has no right to execute while bias exists

Thank you to Connie Jones and Joanne Cabry for raising their voices asking for fair and appropriate behavior on the part of our legislators and courts:

On Fri, Apr 25, 2014, Connie Jones’ letter was published in the Coastal Point:

Editor:
It’s time to let the House of Representatives vote on repealing the death penalty.
Senate Bill 19 calls for the repeal of the death penalty. After passing the Senate, the bill was placed in the House Judiciary Committee in March 2013, and there it remains because there are not sufficient committee members willing to vote to release it. The vote was 6 to 5, according to one representative.
I believe committee members who voted against releasing SB 19 should explain why they are blocking their fellow representatives from voting on this very important bill. Perhaps they could also explain why the criteria for releasing a bill are different in the House and the Senate? In March 2013, the Senate Executive Committee determined it was ready and appropriate to release the bill to the full Senate for a vote. Yet the House committee has had the bill tabled for over a year.
A representative has the right to vote against repeal of the death penalty, but the place to cast that vote is on the House floor, not in a committee hearing.
Connie Jones
Lewes

 

On Fri, Apr 25, 2014 at 10:23 PM, Joanne Cabry <jcabry@gmail.com> wrote:
Delaware State News 04/25/2014, Page A06

Justice for all — who can afford it

Two recent news stories have strengthened my conviction that we must repeal capital punishment in Delaware.

In January, prosecutors opened a sealed envelope from the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner in Wilmington during a drug-prosecution case in Kent County and discovered Oxycontin pills had been replaced with blood-pressure medicine. [“Police probe drug evidence tampering,” article, Feb. 22, and subsequent articles.] Since then, over 60 cases of tainted evidence have been discovered, and there are thousands of drug samples from 2010 to the present yet to be tested.

I have heard over and over again that we don’t execute innocent people in Delaware. How can anyone say that with certainty – especially in light of the ongoing investigation of massive contamination of evidence in the Medical Examiner’s office? Judges and prosecutors are humans, subject to the same human frailties we all possess. We all make mistakes.

I have also heard the argument that we have a legal system that protects the defendant. Sadly, I think the reality is we have a legal system that protects the defendants who can afford to pay for their own defense.

In June 2008, a state prosecutor offered Robert Richards IV a plea to a single count of fourth- degree rape of his 3-year- old daughter, which carries no mandatory time. Richards accepted, admitting in court that he abused his child. Superior Court Judge Jan Jurden, at the recommendation of the prosecution, suspended an eight-year prison sentence and sentenced Richards to a treatment program for sex offenders. [“Legal brethren back judge in du Pont heir sentencing,” article, April 9] Richards’ attorney commented, “It was more than reasonable, an enlightened plea offer.” As a multimillionaire, Richards could afford to hire a private attorney to defend him. Even though I disagree with the decision of Judge Jan Jurden, who has been described as “an outstanding jurist” by Delaware’s attorney general and a number of lawyers and their professional organizations, I acknowledge Robert Richards’ right to use his financial resources to engage a lawyer or legal team to get him the best deal possible.

But the vast majority of capital defendants don’t have Robert Richards’ money. An article in the National Law Journal concluded that capital trials are “more like a random flip of the coin than a delicate balancing of scales,” because the defense attorney is “too often … ill-trained, unprepared [and] grossly underpaid.”

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has observed that “People who are well represented at trial do not get the death penalty … I have yet to see a death case among the dozens coming to the Supreme Court on eve- of- execution stay applications in which the defendant was well represented at trial.”

Study after study has shown that whether or not a defendant will be sentenced to death depends more on the quality of his legal team than any other factor.

Until we can change the sad reality that a person’s wealth determines the quality of his or her defense, and until we can say humans never make mistakes, the state has no right to execute a human being.

Joanne Cabry
Chair, Progressive Democrats of Sussex County Rehoboth Beach

DCODP monthly meeting Monday 4/28/14 at 5:30pm

Senate Bill 19 can still pass this year! Join in the effort at our monthly DCODP meeting, Monday 4/28/14 at 5:30 pm. LOCATION: Wilmington Friends Meeting House, 1st floor Social Room, 401 N. West St, Wilmington, DE 19801. Park in the parking lot on the 5th Street side or on the street. Ring the doorbell at the West Street entrance. Call 302-379-0488 for info. All are welcome!

Interdenominational Ministers Action Council calls for repeal of Delaware’s death penalty

ImageRev. Lawrence Michael Livingston outlines IMAC’s support of Senate Bill 19, the bill calling for repeal of Delaware’s death penalty. He cites bias, harm to families, risk of executing an innocent, and morality as reasons Delaware legislators should repeal the death penalty and replace it with life without parole. Check out the article that appeared 3/30/14 in the News Journal.