- Associated Press - Thursday, April 2, 2015

DOVER, Del. (AP) - Legislation to abolish Delaware’s death penalty passed the state Senate on Thursday by a single vote, the same razor-thin margin that similar legislation received two years ago before dying in a House committee.

The repeal bill, which mimics legislation from 2013, cleared the 21 member chamber on an 11-9 vote, with one GOP lawmaker absent.

The bill now goes to the House, where it faces an uphill battle. Democratic Gov. Jack Markell has not said where he stands on the issue.

“He’s not weighed in on it, much to my disappointment,” said chief sponsor Sen. Karen Peterson, D-Stanton, who also led the 2013 repeal effort. “My gut feeling is he’ll sign it if we’re able to get it to him. … I wish he would help move it along, but that’s his decision.”

The legislation removes execution as a possible punishment for first-degree murder, leaving life in prison without the possibility of parole as the only sentence.

The bill would not apply to the 15 killers now on Delaware’s death row.

Peterson said death penalty opponents believe capital punishment is arbitrary, discriminatory against minorities, costly to taxpayers and ineffective as a deterrent to crime.

“I understand the desire for revenge. … It’s our nature as human beings to want an eye for an eye,” Peterson said. “But what does that get us? Isn’t that the same mentality that’s driving the murder rate in Wilmington? … That makes us no better than the gun-toting thugs in the city of Wilmington.”

Senate Majority Leader David McBride, D-New Castle, who voted in favor of repeal Thursday after voting against it in 2013, said he did not need to conclude that the death penalty is morally wrong.

“It is enough for me to find there’s no societal value in preserving a disproven form of punishment that no longer serves the cause of justice in Delaware,” he said.

Sen. Robert Marshall, D-Wilmington, also switched his position from two years ago, saying he struggled in voting for repeal in 2013 and failed to get Peterson’s support this time around for an amendment guaranteeing that a killer serving life without parole would spend 23 hours a day in a cell forever, in a “hellish life on Earth.”

But opponents of the bill argued that for some crimes, the appropriate sentence is execution.

“I’m very torn on this issue. I’m as pro-life as one can be,” said Sen. Colin Bonini, R-Dover. “But I believe there are cases where it is appropriate.”

Sen. Brian Pettyjohn, R-Georgetown, said the debate is about more than whether life is sacred.

“To me, innocent life is sacred,” he said.

Sen. David Lawson, a Marydel Republican and retired state trooper, said lawmakers have a duty to protect society from “vile criminals.”

“We have vicious, vicious people out there. … I can say, for the most part, the people in this room have not seen what I have seen,” Lawson said in introducing a failed amendment that would have kept the death penalty for killings involving certain aggravating circumstances.

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