Efforts to repeal Delaware's capital punishment statues failed in the House of Representatives Jan. 21 by a 16-23 vote.
Efforts to repeal Delaware’s capital punishment law failed by a 16-23 vote the night of Jan. 28 in the House of Representatives.
But supporters vowed to try again, using a procedural maneuver to ensure Senate Bill 40 gets another chance.
The legislation needed 21 favorable votes to win approval; it fell five votes short, with two House members not present to cast their ballots. Fourteen of the chamber’s 25 Democratic representatives voted in favor; they were joined by only two of the House’s 16 Republicans.
SB 40, sponsored in the House by Rep. Sean M. Lynn, D-Dover, would have taken the death penalty off the books, replacing it with a mandatory life term in prison. It only would have applied to those convicted of first-degree murder after the bill became law. Gov. Jack Markell has said he would have signed the bill had it come to his desk.
The 14 men now on death row in Delaware still would have faced execution.
The bill barely made it to the floor for a vote, only having been held up in the House Judiciary Committee since last year. It wasn’t until committee member Rep. Larry Mitchell changed his vote Jan. 21 that it could be considered.
Before the vote, Lynn said he was concerned about prospects for passage, predicting the results would be “razor thin” either way.
In a statement issued afterward, Lynn said, “We’ve come further today than ever before, and the bill was given its due hearing before the House.”
Lynn said he would not give up trying to change what he called Delaware’s “arcane” capital punishment system.
“My fellow supporters and I will spend the next several months trying to persuade our colleagues that they should vote ‘yes’ on this measure when they return for the next legislative session.”
Lynn predicted repeal is “something that is going to happen.”
Twenty states already have eliminated capital punishment, and two others are debating the question, he said. Delaware eventually will follow, either through legislative means or by the courts invalidating it, Lynn predicted.
“It’s unfortunate that we won’t be the first in 2016, but it’s going to happen,” he said.
As a side note, on Feb. 1, Delaware Superior Court Justice Jan Jurden issued an order halting all pending death penalty cases while the state Supreme Court reviews a question on the constitutionality of Delaware’s capital punishment statues.
Lt. Tom Brackin, president of the Delaware State Troopers Association applauded the bill’s defeat.
“The law enforcement community here in Delaware has obviously been in support of maintaining the death penalty in its current form,” Brackin said. “We’re very pleased with the way the vote went tonight.”
Rep. Paul S. Baumback, D-Newark, disagreed.
“It is bad policy to have the death penalty, to have an irreversible consequence to a process that is not 100 percent guaranteed fair, correct and accurate,” he said.
In addition to Lynn and Baumbach, those voting for repeal included Reps. Stephanie T. Bolden, D-Wilmington East; Debra J. Heffernan, D-Bellefonte; James Johnson, D-New Castle; Helene Keeley, D-Wilmington South; John Kowalko, D-Newark South; Sean Matthews, D-Talleyville; Joseph Miro, R-Pike Creek; Charles Potter Jr., D-Wilmington South, Michael Ramone, R-Middle Run Valley; Bryon Short, D-Highland Woods; Melanie George Smith; D-Bear/Newark; and John J. Viola, D-Newark.
Although she was in favor of the bill, Rep. Kimberly Williams, D-Newark voted against it, a parliamentary move that will allow the bill to again be considered after Joint Finance Committee hearings adjourn.
Rep. Harold “Jack” Peterman, R-Milford, and Rep. Andria Bennett, D-Dover, were absent during the vote.