The Delaware House of Representatives sent out an email on January 30, 2020, describing some members’ latest plan to attempt to reinstate the death penalty. The new bill, called The Egregious Crimes Accountability Act, claims to resolve the flaws that caused the Delaware Supreme Court to declare the death penalty statute unconstitutional in 2016. It also claims to “streamline” aggravating factors.
Do not be fooled. The image of the statue of blind justice that heads the video accompanying the email is a slap in the face to anyone who cares about racial justice. The new bill has made no attempt to change the extreme racial bias in the administration of the death penalty in Delaware. Indeed, some of these same legislators, in a 2016 letter responding to the death penalty being declared unconstitutional, stated that “We realize there are lingering questions about the equity of its application, but that is a separate issue.” It is not a separate issue to those who are likely to be caught in its snare or to any of us who care about the issues of equality before the law. In addition to racial bias, the new bill does nothing to correct for flaws related to wasteful spending, risk of executing an innocent, harm to victims’ family members, ineffectiveness, and failure to improve either public safety or the safety of law enforcement officers.
We urge you to contact your state legislators and urge them to oppose any efforts to reinstate Delaware’s death penalty. For talking points, click here. To find your legislators, go to Who Is My Legislator? at the top right of the Delaware General Assembly website and enter your address. Thank you!
After taking a moment to bask in the good news of New Hampshire’s repeal of the death penalty last week, in Delaware we must face the possibility of legislators reinstating the death penalty. Misnamed the Extreme Crimes Protection Act, House Bill 165 purports to correct the parts of the statute that caused the Delaware Supreme Court to declare the death penalty statute unconstitutional in August, 2016. While the new bill requires juries to make unanimous recommendations and restricts judges from overriding jury recommendations, it does nothing to reduce the other flaws in the application of Delaware’s death penalty. The new bill does nothing to address the racial bias, the harm to victims’ family members, the waste of taxpayer dollars, and the risk of executing an innocent person. The new bill does nothing to address the secondary trauma to jurors, attorneys, corrections officers, and others involved in trials, sentencing, and executions. The new bill fails to address the fact that the administration of Delaware’s death penalty was ineffective and had high rates of error. It fails to acknowledge that the death penalty remains ineffective in improving safety for the public, law enforcement, and public safety officials. The only accurate thing about the name is that if the bill succeeds, it will protect the extreme crime of the state executing its own citizens. Delawareans, please contact your legislators and urge them to oppose House Bill 165.
To see the text of the bill, click on House Bill 165.
To see more about why the death penalty is wrong for Delaware, click here.
To find your legislators’ contact information, go to Who is My Legislator? and enter your address.
To write a letter to the editor, click here.
Delaware Citizens Opposed to the Death Penalty
2016 Annual Meeting
Join us for a short business meeting followed by a presentation:
Capital Punishment in Delaware: Reviewing Past Legislation and Creating a Path Forward
DCODP will present awards to former Senator Karen Peterson, Senator Gary Simpson, and Representative Sean Lynn
Karen Peterson retired from the Senate on October 31st, 2016, after fourteen years of service. She has received numerous awards during her forty-two years of government service for her work on open government, criminal justice, child protection, and animal welfare. She was the primary sponsor of legislation to repeal Delaware’s death penalty. She ably shepherded death penalty repeal bills Senate Bill 19 in 2013 and Senate Bill 40 in 2015 to success in the state Senate.
Monday, November 14th, 2016
7:00 Business Meeting
Kirkwood Library, 6000 Kirkwood Hwy, Wilmington, DE 19808
The annual meeting is free and open to the public.
Refreshments will be provided.
Delaware Citizens Opposed to the Death Penalty is a restorative justice project of Pacem in Terris. For more information, call 302-379-0488 or visit www.enddeathpenaltyde.org.
Join us at this very important town hall meeting. Momentum for repeal is growing. A large crowd at this event will show our legislators and the media that we will not tolerate racial bias in Delaware’s criminal justice system, especially the death penalty. The event “Life or Death: A Critical Look at Criminal Justice and Race,” will be held at 7 pm at Tabernacle Full Gospel Baptist Church, 501 N Washington St, Wilmington, DE 19801. It will feature an extraordinary group of speakers including: Chief Justice of the Delaware Supreme Court Leo Strine; Tamika Mallory, Director of the National Action Network; Shefon Taylor and Charles Madden with the Wilmington HOPE Commission; and Yasser Payne, Professor of Black American Studies at the University of Delaware.
U.S. District Judge (former Chief Judge) Gregory M. Sleet considers whether Delaware’s Execution of Shannon Johnson in April 2012 was a subversion of due process and the adversary system. The Conclusion of his article in the Summer 2015 issue of the ABA Criminal Justice Section’s magazine, Criminal Justice is:
“Johnson’s case—a case that proceeded with notable and unnecessary haste from the time of his competency hearing to his execution—highlights profound failings in our judicial process. As a federal judge tasked with ensuring that individuals and entities that move through our judicial system are guaranteed a process consistent with the dictates of constitutional due process, I believe that the district court was prohibited from doing so in this case and that the process afforded Johnson fell far short of this guarantee. While Johnson may have, in fact, been competent to waive his appellate rights and expedite his own execution, I believe now, as I did then, that it is critical that the process resulting in an execution may be “judged in hindsight as having complied with the requirements of constitutional due process, as well as appear to the general public, which has a great interest in the issue, to have done so.” It is my sincere hope that this case and the subsequent examination of it will promote the changes necessary to ensure we can do so in the future.”
To read the full article, click on ABA Criminal Justice Summer 2015 issue and go to page 9.
Prosecutorial misconduct contributed to reversing the convictions and death sentences of two men who served time on Delaware’s death row.
In January, the Delaware Supreme Court overturned the conviction and sentence of Isaiah McCoy, who was sentenced to death in 2012 for the murder of James Mumford.
In February, Jerome Wright was set free after his conviction and sentence were overturned. Jerome Wright was sentenced to death in 1992 for the murder of Phillip Seifert.
Both men may face new trials.
More information on Isaiah McCoy
More information on Jermaine Wright
“The Delaware Repeal Project has issued an emphatic call to our legislators for full repeal of the death penalty on behalf of our coalition partners and the tens of thousands of Delawareans we collectively represent.
The attached letter, which our legislators received yesterday, represents our collective agreement that the system of capital punishment is broken beyond repair. It is immoral, unethical, biased, irresponsibly costly, does not serve as a deterrent to violent crime, and does not provide care or closure for families of murder victims.”
Legislators Full Repeal_2 2 15 (2)
I recently finished Bryan Stevenson’s tremendous new book, “Just Mercy.” It is a powerful study of the inhumanity that continues to plague the criminal justice system in America. It draws you in, then breaks your heart. Toward the end of the book, I found some passages that beautifully articulate the connection between brokenness, humanity, and compassion. These passages resonated with feelings I have often had so I wanted to share:
“We are all broken by something. We have all hurt someone and have been hurt. We all share the condition of brokenness even if our brokenness is not equivalent…The ways in which I have been hurt – and have hurt others – are different from the ways Jimmy Dill [wrongfully sentenced to death and executed] suffered and caused suffering. But our shared brokenness connected us.” (p. 289)
“I guess I’d always known but never fully considered that being broken is what makes us human. We all have our reasons. Sometimes we’re fractured by the choices we make; sometimes we’re shattered by things we would never have chosen. But our brokenness is also the source of our common humanity, the basis for our shared search for comfort, meaning, and healing. Our shared vulnerability and imperfection nurtures and sustains our capacity for compassion.” (p. 289)
“We have a choice. We can embrace our humanness, which means embracing our broken natures and the compassion that remains our best hope for healing. Or we can deny our brokenness, forswear compassion, and, as a result, deny our own humanity.” (p. 289)
“I understood that even as we are caught in a web of hurt and brokenness, we’re also in a web of healing and mercy…The power of just mercy is that it belongs to the undeserving. It’s when mercy is least expected that it’s most potent – strong enough to break the cycle of victimization and victimhood, retribution and suffering. It has the power to heal the psychic harm and injuries that lead to aggression and violence, abuse of power, mass incarceration.” (p. 294)
The Delaware State News published my opinion piece on how the death penalty is a false promise to victims’ families. “If I had to invent something that would inflict the most pain on victims’ family members, it would be the death penalty…Imagine having to be immersed in the excruciating details of the murder repeatedly for years…During those years, family members’ lives are bound to the killer’s, the person who hurt them and their loved one the most.”
Due to our monthly meeting date falling during Christmas week, we encourage attendance instead at this event on Monday, December 15 at the World Cafe Live at the Queen. Delaware’s own Bryan Stevenson, attorney and founder of Equal Justice Initiative, will give a presentation with Q&A, followed by signing of his new book Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and redemption. 5-7pm. Free to the public. Please spread the word.