DOVER, Del. (AP) – Opponents of capital punishment introduced legislation Tuesday to repeal Delaware's death penalty and spare the lives of 17 killers already on death row.
More than 100 people gathered in the state Senate chamber as lawmakers announced the beginning of an effort to abolish the death penalty.
Supporters of the bill said the death penalty is morally wrong, ineffective as a deterrent to violent crime and far more costly than putting killers in prison for life.
Sen. Karen Peterson, chief sponsor of the legislation, asserted the death penalty was discretionary, arbitrary and ineffective, based more on a tough-on-crime mentality than sound public policy.
"When it comes to the death penalty, logic goes out the window, and it's replaced with raw emotion,'' said Peterson, D-Stanton. "It's time for Delaware to end the insanity of killing killers.''
Similar efforts are underway in Maryland, where anti-death penalty legislation pushed by Gov. Martin O'Malley is expected to pass.
But Delaware Gov. Jack Markell, a fellow Democrat, has yet to take a stand on the issue.
"It's a very difficult issue. … It's one I have a personal connection to,'' he said Tuesday.
Markell took the unprecedented step last year of sparing the life of a man just days away from execution for the murder of a former girlfriend.
Markell's decision to accept the Board of Pardons' recommendation to commute the death sentence of Robert Gattis contrasts with his earlier service on the pardons board as state treasurer, when he supported the imposition of the death penalty in other cases.
"I want to hear from people on both sides,'' Markell said of the bill introduced Tuesday.
Attorney General Beau Biden, whose office has sought the death penalty in several cases, issued a statement reiterating that he believes capital punishment is appropriate for criminals who commit "the most heinous crimes.''
"My position has not changed,'' he said.
Groups supporting the effort to repeal the death penalty in Delaware include the American Civil Liberties Union, the NAACP, the League of Women Voters, religious leaders and the Delaware Center for Justice.
Public defender Brendan O'Neill, whose office has represented several defendants in first-degree murder cases, also supports repeal of the death penalty.
"I think it's morally wrong for the state to be executing people,'' O'Neill said.
*Pictured above is Delaware Gov. Jack Markell.