Del. Debate on Death Penalty Repeal Bill Begins - WBOC-TV 16, Delmarvas News Leader, FOX 21 -

Del. Debate on Death Penalty Repeal Bill Begins

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DOVER, Del.- Delaware lawmakers rolled out their plan Tuesday to repeal the state's death penalty as the legislature went back into session.

If it is repealed, life without parole would be the state's harshest possible punishment. The law would also immediately discontinue death row. The 17 men currently facing execution in Delaware would all have their sentences changed to life without parole.

The senate chamber was packed as lawmakers presented their plan.

Supporters say the death penalty shouldn't exist because there's no way to know 100-percent someone is guilty. They believe it unfairly targets minorities and the poor and does not prevent crime. And bill sponsor Rep. Darryl Scott, D-Dover, said there's a bigger question here.

"Do we deserve to kill? If justice is what we're after, I don't think that's the answer," he said. "I think that's a policy of revenge, not of justice."

Supporters also look to the cost to the state of the death penalty, which is more than for keeping someone in prison for life. It's a point opponents take issue with.

"I think it is more of a moral decision than an economic one," said Tom Brackin, head of the Delaware State Troopers Association. "I don't think any decision made to repeal or keep should be based on an economic factor."

The DSTA is one of multiple law enforcement organizations that have come out against repeal. They say if someone kills an officer, for example, the death penalty has to be a sentencing option.

"We as law enforcement officers and local officials try to keep this state as safe as we can," said Fred Calhoun, president of the state's Fraternal Order of Police. "Strict penalties is what the FOP fights for when it comes to that."

Lawmakers are already drawing battle lines - with supporters and opponents on both sides of the aisle.

"This will be about where people feel morally on the death penalty," said Rep. John Atkins, D-Millsboro. "You'll see Republicans and Democrats on both sides of this measure."

Tuesday's roll out is the first event in a long discussion. Some of the people lawmakers will hear from are murder victims' families who say the death penalty has to go and that it doesn't provide the closure some think it does.

"They believe the death penalty is almost the opposite of the best response after murder occurs," said Scott Bass, with Murder Victims' Families for Reconciliation.

Gov. Jack Markell has not signaled where he is on the issue. He said he is in the listening phase right now and is keeping an open mind.

And as Delaware starts looking at the death penalty, Maryland is also debating the issue. A bill to repeal has already gotten through the state senate there.

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