- Associated Press - Wednesday, May 3, 2017

DOVER, Del. (AP) - A bill to reinstate Delaware’s death penalty, which the state Supreme Court declared unconstitutional last year, is headed to the House floor following a Judiciary Committee hearing Wednesday.

Members of the committee voted 7-4 to send the legislation to the full House. All dissenting votes came from Democrats.

Consideration of the legislation comes amid public outcry to the killing of a correctional officer during a prison riot and hostage taking in February, and the fatal shooting of a state trooper last week.

“There are some truly evil people who commit heinous crimes against innocent citizens in this state,” said Lt. Thomas Brackin, president of the Delaware State Troopers Association. “You do need to have the ultimate punishment for the ultimate crime.”

Opponents of the legislation argued that the death penalty is not a deterrent to crime, is too costly, is applied in a racially biased manner against blacks and other ethnic minorities, and amounts to state-sponsored murder.

“State sanctioned murder is still murder,” said Molly Keogh, president of Delaware Citizens Opposed to the Death Penalty.

Under the bill, jurors would have to find unanimously and beyond a reasonable doubt that a defendant should be executed. A judge would have to agree with the jury in order for the death penalty to be imposed but would have the discretion to sentence a defendant to life in prison even if the jury found that the death penalty was warranted.

A majority of Delaware’s Supreme Court justices declared the state’s death penalty law unconstitutional last August because it allowed judges too much discretion and did not require that a jury find unanimously and beyond a reasonable doubt that a defendant deserves execution.

That ruling came after the U.S. Supreme Court said Florida’s death sentencing law, which like Delaware’s gave judges the final say, was unconstitutional.

Democratic Gov. John Carney has said he supports the court ruling declaring Delaware’s death penalty law unconstitutional, but he has not promised to veto legislation reinstating capital punishment. Carney has not taken a public position on the pending legislation but has not ruled out supporting the death penalty for those convicted of killing a member of law enforcement.

Democratic Attorney General Matt Denn has said he would support a law requiring a unanimous jury recommendation before a judge could impose the death penalty. State prosecutor Sean Lugg told lawmakers Wednesday that the attorney general’s office believes the bill has addressed the constitutional infirmities noted by the Supreme Court, and that, based on those changes, Denn supports the legislation.

Delaware’s death penalty has had a tortuous history over the past 50 years.

In 1958, Gov. J. Caleb Boggs signed a bill abolishing the death penalty, making Delaware only the second state in the nation, after Missouri, to abolish capital punishment.

Three years later, lawmakers passed a bill reinstating the death penalty after the killings of an elderly Sussex County farm couple. Gov. Elbert Carvel vetoed the measure, but Senate and House lawmakers overrode him.

In 1991, lawmakers held a special session to change Delaware’s death penalty law, giving judges the final say on whether to impose the death penalty after considering a jury’s recommendation. The move came amid public outrage after four men convicted of robbing and murdering two armored car guards all received life sentences after jurors could not unanimously agree on the death penalty.

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