Central Delaware
Police chiefs rally in Dover for death penalty
Delaware Police Chiefs' Council president Chief Jeffrey Horvath of Lewes Police Department opens a press conference on Legislative Mall in support of Delaware's death penalty law. (Delaware State News/Dave Chambers photo)

DOVER – Delaware’s police chiefs are staunchly against repealing the death penalty, and on Wednesday afternoon they counted the ways.

Standing next to the Delaware Law Enforcement Memorial and in the shadows of a Legislative Hall where repeal was proposed the day before through Senate Bill 19, police leadership made its case to gathered media and legislators who looked on before beginning a lawmaking session.

Law enforcement, legal counsel and families affected by death row inmate’s deeds spent time discounting pro-abolition of capital punishment in a 25-minute gathering, making their quick talking points and passing out a 26-page packet to support their case.

The packet was sent to lawmakers at nearby Legislative Hall who will decide the fate of Senate Bill 19 that would make life imprisonment without the possibility of parole as the first-degree murder punishment. That would alter the sentences of 17 Delaware men currently on death row.

“This is a time for discourse that will hopefully end with legislators saying this is not the time to change the system because the system because the system is not broken,” said John F. Brady, a prosecutor and defender in Delaware court system for 22 years who serves as the Police Chiefs’ Council legal advisor.

Delaware should not be lumped in with California in its death penalty applications, the chiefs said, considering the western state has past faced federal litigation and mandates for mismanagement of their criminal justice and correctional systems.

“It’s an apples and oranges argument to compare our state from any others, especially from those from another state who have not spent years understanding the precise nature of the judicial system in action,” Dover Police Department Chief James Hosfelt said.

The First State’s size not only allows for a better screening process to sit judges through governor nomination, committee hearings and senate confirmation, and “the entire body of a state’s criminal cases along with the procedures and resources in place to handle them will ultimately be responsible for the speed of with which cases will ultimately be processed.

“We have good judges and a judicial system designed to take a comprehensive look at the case of each offender eligible for capital punishment, and have never yet executed an innocent person,” said Delaware Police Chiefs Council Executive Director Martin Johnson.

The death sentence is not applied in a racist manner, with nine white and eight black members currently housed on death row. However, chiefs said, the number of black offenders consistently exceeded white offenders committing homicides from 2003-08 demographic studies.

The judgments were made in a just manner, police chief’s representatives said, including a trial by jury, separate penalty phase and automatic appeal to the Delaware Supreme Court upon initial conviction. Bond is given to every crime except first-degree murder.

“The process is very thorough and comprehensive, starting with the preliminary hearing where it’s determined whether there’s enough evidence to move forward with a case,” Mr. Brady said.

“Delaware has never executed an innocent person, and let that be the point you go with.”

Thomas Brackin of the Delaware State Police Troopers Association said the issue was not an economic debate, but “purely a moral and justice issue.”

If allowed to live, the current capital punishment eligible inmates would spend a life without parole still benefiting from free health care, visits from friends and family and three meals a day until they die.

Significant threat to DOC

Also, the worst inmates with no fear of the death penalty pose a significant threat to Department of Correction personnel that tend to them daily, Mr. Brackin said.

Georgetown Police Chief William Topping worried that the public might become hyper-sensitive to a world seen as lacking justice toward the worst criminals.

“If people do not expect to get justice within the system, are they then going to take extraordinary ways to defend themselves out of fear?” Chief Topping wondered.

Lewes Police Chief Jeffrey Horvath, chairman of the Police Chiefs’ Council, said law enforcement is faced daily with the chance of death at the hands of the worst incorrigibles not affected by deterrents, but not worth trading a police life for, either, with life in prison.

“I know of no other occupation in Delaware that has a greater chance on a daily basis in their job of being murdered (than a police officer),” Mr. Horvath said.

Ruth Ann Spicer, whose son Chad was on Georgetown police duty when felled by a gunman on Sept. 16, 2009, attended the rally with her husband Norman.

“This is not a revenge system,” Ms. Spicer said. “People on death row do not need to be given a second chance.

“The crimes were done, investigation conducted and this was the result. We can go to (our sons) grave, but we can never talk to him, hear from him or touch him again.”

Staff writer Craig Anderson can be reached at 741-8296 or Follow @DSNAnderson on Twitter.