Delaware House passes bill reinstating death penalty

The News Journal | by Matthew Albright

Despite the impassioned pleas of several of its members, the House of Representatives passed legislation Tuesday that would bring the death penalty back to Delaware.

The bill now heads to the Senate, where supporters of capital punishment face a tougher vote. And it remains uncertain whether Gov. John Carney would sign or veto it.

The House voted 24-16 to pass the Extreme Crimes Protection Act, which requires that juries unanimously agree that aggravating circumstances in a murder merit a death sentence.

The bill’s sponsors say those changes would address concerns the Delaware Supreme Court raised last year when it ruled Delaware’s capital punishment law was unconstitutional. Since that ruling, the death penalty law has been unenforceable.

“This legislation raises the burden of proof to the highest possible standard, beyond a reasonable doubt,” said sponsor Steve Smyk, R-Milford.

Just before the vote, Rep. Sean Lynn, D-Dover, asked his colleagues to think of U.S. Supreme Court justices whose consciences were burdened by their decision to reinstate the death penalty. This vote, he warned, was different from a vote last year to abolish capital punishment before the court’s ruling.

“You are affirmatively voting to kill people in the state of Delaware,” Lynn said.

Other than a brief introduction by Smyk, none of the legislators who voted for the bill gave a speech. Seven opponents did.

Rep. Stephanie T. Bolden, D-Wilmington East, invoked former Rep. Hazel Plant, whose daughter was murdered while cradling her infant child. Plant testified against giving the killer a death sentence.

“I think it’s an easy, cowardly way out for a person to take their life after they know they’ve done wrong,” Bolden said.

Rep. John Kowalko, D-Newark, said he understood how the families of murder victims felt.

“If I was in that position, I would have a bloodlust in my mind. I would want to exact vengeance,” Kowalko said. “I can’t legislate vengeance. I can only legislate justice.”

Lynn asked Brendan O’Neill, Delaware’s public defender, to testify against the bill. He argued the death penalty was costly and said there was an “inherent logical inconsistency” in killing people for murder.

“When we impose a death sentence, we do exactly the same thing we have ruled is intolerable,” O’Neill said.

Even opponents of the legislation expected it would pass the House, which rejected last year’s repeal bill by a vote of 23-16. The real challenge will be in the Senate.

Last year, before the court’s ruling, the Senate passed the repeal legislation on an 11-9 vote. That suggests a narrow majority of senators oppose the death penalty.

However, there are three new senators since last year: Sen. Stephanie Hansen, D-Middletown; Sen. Jack Walsh, D-Stanton; and Sen. Anthony Delcollo, R-Marshallton.

If the 21-member chamber were to tie, the decision would be up to Lt. Gov. Bethany Hall-Long, a Democrat who voted against the repeal bill last year.

Even if the Senate passes the legislation reinstating the death penalty, Gov. John Carney could veto it. The bill’s supporters clearly would not have the two-thirds majority needed to override the governor.

Carney has declined to say whether he would veto this death penalty bill. But he has publicly said that he would like to see the court’s ruling stand.

The governor recently said that he would “not rule out” supporting the death penalty for those who kill police officers or correctional officers in prisons. The bill that passed the House is not limited to that, but Carney has stopped short of explicitly saying he would veto it.


Here’s how the 41 members of the Delaware House of Representatives voted on the Extreme Crimes Protection Act. A “yes” vote is a vote to reinstate the death penalty; a “no” vote is a vote against bringing the punishment back to Delaware.

To find out who your representative is, visit and type your address into the “who is my legislator” box in the top right of the page.



William Carson
Ed Osienski
Trey Paradee
Quinton Johnson
Pete Schwartzkopf
Melanie George Smith
Earl Jaques
Valerie Longhurst
Larry Mitchell
Michael Mulrooney


Richard Collins
Danny Short
Timothy Dukes
Ronald Gray
Kevin Hensley
Deborah Hudson
William Outten
Charles Postles
Steve Smyk
Jeff Spiegelman
Harvey Kenton
Ruth Briggs King
David Wilson
Lyndon Yearick



Bryon Short
Paul Baumbach
Andria Bennett
David Bentz
Stephanie T. Bolden
Gerald Brady
Debra Heffernan
Charles Potter
J.J. Johnson
Helene Keeley
John Kowalko
Sean Lynn
Sean Matthews
Kim Williams
John Viola


Joe Miro


Mike Ramone (R)

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