A Call to Abolish Delaware's Death Penalty

On Thursday the Delaware House will consider SB40, the bill to repeal the death penalty. Repealing the death penalty is an important first step towards racial justice and fairness in our criminal justice system.

UnknownPatterns of racial profiling, the selective enforcement of laws against people of color, stop-and-frisk policies, and charging and sentencing decisions disproportionately impact people of color who experience contact with law enforcement and the criminal justice system at far greater rates than white people. The death penalty is no different and is substantially influenced by systematic racial bias.


A recent Cornell University study found that more than 70% of death sentences in Delaware were imposed in cases where the victim was white, even though the majority of murder victims over the same time period were Black, showing how white life continues to be valued differently than Black lives. We cannot support a system where the color of one’s skin significantly impacts whether are sentenced to die or to spend life in prison.

Racial bias also exacerbates the risk of executing an innocent person. Eyewitness identification is the leading cause of wrongful conviction and is even less reliable when the witness is identifying someone of a different race. Of the 156 death row exonerees in the US since 1973, 60% are Black or Latino.

Our criminal justice system should treat all people equally, regardless of how much money they make, where they live, or the color of their skin. Delaware’s death penalty is applied unevenly and unfairly, even for similar crimes. A system that is so arbitrary should not be allowed to choose who lives and who dies.

Despite decades of evidence showing that the administration of the death penalty is a failed measure of public policy, the legislature’s refusal to meaningfully address these racial disparities undermines the integrity of the entire criminal justice system.

I urge our lawmakers to vote yes on SB40 and to put Delaware on the right side of history.

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9 Comments

  • I have always viewed the Death Penalty as State sponsored Murder. As Human Beings,, we are better than this. There are too many discrepancies in regard to Race and Income to even call Capital Punishment fair. YES on SB40.

  • Maybe all these murderers should like with Ashley and Vincent.

    These Death Row inmates did something quite severe and doesn’t matter if they are black or white or orange or green.

  • Please forward to the family of Shirley Slay
    To media througout Delaware and
    To: Governor Jack Markell and staff
    The Delaware Board of Pardons and staffs
    Attorney General Beau Biden and staff
    From Dudley Sharp, contact info below
    Re: The Delaware Board of Pardons Forgot Justice:
    Commutation vote for Robert Gattis’ death sentence for the murder of Shirley Slay
    Dear Governor and Attorney General:
    Please consider.
    The Boards majority recommendation, to commute Gattis’ death sentence to life, conflicts with justice.
    The Board seems to have forgotten that sanction is not provided as a matter of self defense, but as a matter of justice.
    It is immoral to consider “self defense” as the standard for sanction because it is a utilitarian concern, which does not take into account the primary purpose of sanction, which is that sanctions be earned by the criminal and be given by the fact finders, based upon the nature of the crime.
    How unjust would it be if we gave sanction based upon self defense, when the criminal did not, in fact, deserve it?
    The death penalty is, in addition, a greater measure of self defense, as living murderers do harm and murder, again, in prison, after escape and after improper release. Executed murderers do not.
    The death penalty is founded in justice, based upon the sanction being deserved and, secondarily, it is a greater protector of innocent lives.
    Any commutation of sentence in this case will just be a clear example that Gattis can be released at any time by any future governor who may find it appropriate, no matter what agreements are made, today — agreements which are, legally irrelevant, in any future executive clemency considerations. All bets are off, with any future governor., not matter what any agreement says, today. End of story.
    The Slay family should not be comforted by Gattis “never getting out”. It is a promise that no one can, honestly, make.
    Board members Strine and Bullock noted that other such murderers are subject to release, as if Gattis had the wrong sanction, when they can’t make that case. No worries, gentlemen, Gattis will always be subject to release, if his death sentence is commuted.
    As is clear, any alleged positive changes in Gattis are based upon him being sentenced to death. The only reason he has, now, finally stopped lying, about the “accidental” shooting, is because he is facing execution.
    Put another way, it was only because Gattis was given the death sentence that we see any alleged benefits in Gattis, today.
    Does anyone doubt that Gattis would still be lying about the “accidental” murder, had he been given a life sentence, as the Board, now, proposes?
    Everyone knows Gattis is only telling the truth to avoid a death sentence.
    In other words, this has nothing to do with a changed man, but is only about self preservation by a premeditated murderer.
    It is most likely that he is lying about the additional sexual, abuse, only because, again, he is facing the death penalty and wants commutation.
    Sexual abuse was part of his original trial mitigating factors. He waited 19 years to bring up the alleged additional evidence of sexual abuse, which if true, he would have brought up at trial, 19 years ago. He didn’t.
    Would Gattis lie to avoid a death sentence?
    Do both lying to avoid the death penalty and telling the truth to avoid the death penalty tell us anything about Gattis being a changed man? Of course it does. It tells us that a self serving murdered can get what they want with the Delaware Board of Pardons (1/18/12 and, now the Gov, who granted it)
    The Board missed the boat on disparate sentencing.
    The disparity is not that Gattis received the death penalty for his crimes, but that other similar crimes did not. 99.9% of the victims of sexual abuse do not commit capital murder.
    If sentencing disparities are so important to the Board, why didn’t they take into consideration that most murderers get less than life and some get no prison time, all of which they could have considered?
    It is an insult to all victims that sentencing disparities should be used as a reason to mitigate this sentence, when the board has no way of knowing if any of the (19 years in hiding) claims of sexual abuse are true.
    If sentencing disparities are to be used in the context of victims, it should be used as a barometer to increase sentences, not to reduce them.
    Although the Board cannot increase sentences, it seems they only viewed disparities in the light to benefit criminals, not victims. Unfortunate.
    It is no mystery that any murderer who would wait 22 years to tell the truth to avoid execution would also wait 19 years to lie to avoid execution.
    An additional commutation excuse, without reasoning, is the fact that the Board considered it important that the jury was not unanimous in their recommendation of death for Gattis.
    2 jurors, or 17%, voted for life.
    Why would the Board only show their majority support for 17%, but trash the other 10 jurors, or 83%, who found death more just?
    It is the same as saying, that the Governor should only pay attention to the 1 board member (20%) who voted to uphold the death sentence, but trash the 4 (80%) who voted for commutation.
    As ridiculous as that sounds, that is, precisely, what we are all being asked to swallow.
    Remember innocent abuse and murder victim Shirley Slay and remember the importance of justice. Both have gotten less than their fair share of attention.
    Sincerely, Dudley Sharp
    e-mail sharpjfa@aol.com, 713-622-5491,
    Houston, Texas

  • Interesting non argument for inhibiting the citizen protection responsibility of the State. Perhaps those who rashly, unjustly and continually call for and administer the death penalty should have clear, well defined, uncompromising guidelines to follow when imposing this penalty.
    The imposition of the death penalty without DNA evidence seems to be completely misguided, irresponsible and anti-life.
    As I have never heard of a case of a gun pulling its own trigger I have not heard of the death penalty executing anyone.
    The Catechism of the Catholic Church speaks to this issue very well.

  • It is important to keep capital punishment in place. It would be very foolish to get rid of it.

    In Nebraska, none of those on Death Row claims not to have committed the heinous murders that got them there. The evidence is overwhelming of their heartless, evil killing, including several caught on a bank’s videotape.

    We have only 10 people on our Death Row right now, but there have been 2,500 homicides in Nebraska since 1960. That shows how ultra-seriously a capital case is treated, and how capital punishment is reserved for only the most horrible, heinous murders.

    Our criminal justice system is built on atonement more than rehabilitation. You “atone” for most crimes, including the vast majority of homicides, with time behind bars, fines, restitution, probationary requirements, etc. But how do you “atone” for the atrociously heinous, evil taking of innocent human life? For the very, very worst cases, there is only one way: capital punishment. It is literally the only way these most senseless, violent murderers can ever tell society, “I’m sorry.” Indeed, it may be the only way they can be accepted by our Creator for eternal life. The punishment HAS to fit the crime, if we are to remain an objective society under law and not guided by what subjectively “feels” happy, peppy, positive and loving.

    Capital punishment cannot bring back the people who were murdered, but it can make our statement as a nation that we stand for innocent human life and there’s only so much we can take.

  • I agree with much of the criticism of the death penalty, but then I look at something like the brutal, merciless murder of Lindsey Bonistall by a completely remorseless killer like James Cooke and I say that somehow the penalty must fit the crime. And I remain completely perplexed by those of the liberal persuasion who think nothing of killing a completely innocent child in the womb but believe it is immoral for society to make a killer pay for his outrageous crime. Would you really sentence Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, Josef Mengele, Heinrich Himmler and Hangman Heydrich to life in prison? No, we should not become like Iran and execute political prisoners and non believers, but for the true enemies of a civil society we must keep the option.

  • I will fight as long as I breath to rid this State of the evil called the Death Penalty. We had a set back today. What is the point in saying sorry for slavery and still having an unnecessary evil in this day and age. My Daughter Frances was murdered in 1985, and yes, I could have killed someone myself at the time of her death. Frances was a loving and kind person, who would never wish for the State to kill in her name. Two years and 9 months later, I lost my son to an overdose of antidepressant’s. He wanted revenge, but the only person he could hurt was himself.
    Daniel wanted those of us who never get an answer to the question, who killed our loved one. We were told that if no one was arrested in 4 days, we would never know . 33 per cent of us,the family of a murder victim never have an answer and no one is accountable. Spend the money an execution costs on solving a cold case. Justice should be blind and equal