The death penalty began in Delaware in 1662 with the colony’s first hanging. The official method of execution for Delaware was hanging until 1986, when lethal injection became the new official method, with the exception of those already sentenced to death by hanging. The gallows were disassembled in 2003. This state’s legislative stance on the death penalty has changed over time, with the state repealing and reinstating the death penalty (1958 -1961) prior to the federal repeal and reinstatement (in 1972 – 1976). There have been 15 executions in Delaware since the current reinstatement of the death penalty in 1974. The first contemporary execution took place in 1992. The death penalty is an option for convicted murders in Delaware but is not heavily pursued. There was however a bill passed in 1994 requiring that all executions in the state take place between 12:01 and 3:00 am.
Delaware has executed 16 men since 1992. That’s more than California, with the largest death row in the country at over 700, which has executed 13 times, and Pennsylvania, with a death row of about 200, which has executed only three men in the last 20 years. Per capita, Delaware ranks third in executions, and fifth in death sentences, with 15 men presently on death row.
Delaware shamefully boasts some of the broadest death penalty laws in the country. In Delaware, a defendant can receive a death sentence for driving a get-away car even if he/she didn’t pull the trigger and actually kill someone. Delaware, along with Florida and Alabama, are the only states where the jury makes a non-unanimous recommendation to a judge, who then makes the final decision about life or death.
CMN State Spotlight – October 2014
“For the first time in Delaware history, the clemency petition of a death row inmate was granted in 2012 when Robert Gattis received clemency from Governor Jack Markell after the Board of Pardons recommended clemency on a 4-1 vote. His death sentence was reduced to life in prison without parole.”
CMN State Spotlight – October 2013
Sister Helen Prejean shared, “The more you know about the death penalty, the less you support it. Most folks in Delaware seem to understand that the system is broken and cannot be fixed, and are ready for the legislature to vote on it.”
CMN State Spotlight – September 2012
“Leaders of Delaware’s repeal efforts … believe that it is critical for Delawareans to take a hard look at the state’s use of capital punishment. For a small state, Delaware’s use of the death penalty is extensive.”