Delaware House rejects legislation to abolish death penalty

AP News
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Posted: Jan 29, 2016 4:45 AM

DOVER, Del. (AP) — Proponents of a defeated measure to abolish Delaware's death penalty say they will continue fighting until capital punishment is outlawed.

The legislation failed Thursday evening in the state House, getting only 16 of the 21 votes needed for passage. Twenty-three lawmakers voted against the bill, which cleared the Senate last year by a single vote.

Supporters said they would try to resurrect the measure after a five-week break for budget committee meetings.

Under House rules, a defeated bill can be recalled for another vote within three legislative days on the request of a member on the prevailing side. Rep. Kim Williams, a Newport Democrat who supports abolishing the death penalty, deliberately voted against the bill so she could have it brought back up in March.

Democratic Gov. Jack Markell has said he would sign the measure, which would not apply to inmates currently on death row. The state has 13 inmates on death row but does not have the necessary chemicals to carry out an execution if one were ordered.

"I had hoped that after giving the arguments careful consideration, the House would realize, as I did, that the death penalty is an instrument of imperfect justice," Markell said in a prepared statement. "I understand that it is an incredibly difficult issue, and I respect all viewpoints. While this was not the time to repeal the death penalty, I believe that time will come."

Delaware is one of 31 states with the death penalty; 19 states and the District of Columbia have abolished capital punishment.

Opponents of the bill, including many in the law enforcement community, have argued that it is a necessary and just punishment for those who commit heinous murders. Among lawmakers voting against the bill were House Speaker Pete Schwartzkopf, D-Rehoboth, and Judiciary Committee chairman Rep. John Mitchell, D-Elsmere, both retired police officers.

Judiciary Committee members voted 6-5 in May not to send the bill to the full House after it passed the Senate. The bill languished in the committee until last week, when Mitchell agreed to send it to the full House.

"I remain hopeful," chief House sponsor Rep. Sean Lynn, D-Dover, said after Thursday's vote. "This is going to happen. ... It's going to happen, either by the courts or by the legislature."

Delaware's Supreme Court has agreed to accept and answer questions submitted by a Superior Court judge on the constitutionality of Delaware's death penalty statute in light of two U.S. Supreme Court rulings earlier this month.