Former state prosecutor to run for attorney general

 

DOVER — New Castle County’s chief administrative officer — formerly a top state prosecutor — quit her job Monday to run for attorney general.

Kathy Jennings, a 64-year-old Democrat, said she would make a formal announcement of her candidacy soon.

Ms. Jennings spent 22 years in the Delaware Department of Justice across two stints, including serving as chief deputy attorney general from 1993 to 1994 and as state prosecutor from 2011 to 2016.

“I’ve spent the better part of my career dedicated to the cause of justice,” she said. “It means a great deal to me that people in Delaware feel safe in their communities, in their homes and feel safe in the schools they send their children to.”

Attorney General Matt Denn, who retained Ms. Jennings as chief prosecutor when he was elected in 2014, said in August he wouldn’t run for a second term, leading to speculation about who would succeed him. Ms. Jennings was frequently mentioned.

She joins fellow Democrat Tim Mullaney and Republican Tom Neuberger in the race for the open seat. Mr. Mullaney worked alongside Ms. Jennings at the Department of Justice and was her predecessor as New Castle’s chief administrative officer. Mr. Neuberger has made a name for himself suing the state.

Rep. Sean Lynn, a Dover Democrat, was also considering a run as of several weeks ago. He could not be reached for comment Monday.

With Democrats outnumbering Republicans 324,300 to 191,800, the Democratic nominee is likely to be favored for election in November.

Ms. Jennings has been endorsed by another potential candidate: Former Delaware Attorney General and U.S. Attorney Charles Oberly, who said there has never “been a better qualified candidate to run for office.”

She served as chief deputy attorney general under Mr. Oberly and, he said, acted as “de facto attorney general” when he ran for Senate in 1994. Mr. Oberly’s tutelage impacts her today: Ms. Jennings said his advice to be completely confident when opting to go to trial still guides her decisions.

Kathy Jennings

The two started a law firm together in 1995, with Ms. Jennings remaining in private practice until then Attorney General Beau Biden lured her back to state government in 2011.

As state prosecutor, she oversaw the Department of Justice’s Criminal Division.

She said she has prosecuted more than 100 felony cases in court, including that of Steven Pennell, Delaware’s only known serial killer. Pennell was convicted in 1989 of murdering two women and was executed three years later. The case was one of the first in the nation to use DNA evidence.

“That was the most difficult prosecution of my career,” Ms. Jennings said.

She has experience seeking the death penalty, something that will receive attention in the ensuing months. While the state currently has no capital punishment statute after the Delaware Supreme Court struck it down in 2016, a bill to reinstate it is awaiting a Senate committee hearing.

Ms. Jennings said she personally considers the death penalty a complicated subject. But she said she would seek to use it “for the worst crimes imaginable,” such as those perpetrated by mass murderers or killers of first responders, if she is elected and lawmakers pass a death penalty law.

Among her main priorities, she said, are gun violence, opioid abuse and racial inequality in the justice system.

Asked what policies she would put in place, Ms. Jennings said it is too early to talk specifics but will detail her ideas later.

While she has spent much of her career prosecuting criminals, Ms. Jennings said she would focus instead on “big-picture goals” and running the Department of Justice as attorney general, although she admitted she would be “tempted” to appear in court for individual cases.

“Sometimes you have to be a soldier, sometimes you have to be a leader,” she said.

Staff writer Matt Bittle can be reached at 741-8250 or mbittle@newszap.com. Follow @MatthewCBittle on Twitter.

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