Delaware Supreme Court: Freed killer Culp must return to prison

DOVER — A convicted murderer’s reduced sentence was nullified in Delaware Supreme Court last week, mandating her return to prison.

Catherine W. Culp, 56, successfully petitioned Kent County Superior Court for a sentence modification in April, ending a prison stay that began after the shooting death of her boyfriend following a party south of Canterbury on July 28, 1998.

The Delaware Department of Justice appealed Judge Robert B. Young’s decision, which was based on Culp’s extensive rehabilitation efforts.

In a 10-page order, the Supreme Court agreed with the DOJ’s assertion that Culp’s appeal was repetitive and untimely, and no extraordinary circumstances existed to modify the sentence in Superior Court.

After release from Baylor Women’s Correctional Institution in April, Culp transferred her Level III probation status and relocated to Florida, but is now mandated to return to the Delaware Department of Correction prison system.

“The Delaware Department of Justice is pleased with the Delaware Supreme Court’s clarification of Delaware sentencing procedure and, ultimately, its reversal of an improperly considered request for sentence modification,” according to DOJ spokesman Carl Kanefsky in a statement.

“Following the issuance of a mandate from the Delaware Supreme Court, the Delaware Department of Justice will work with appropriate authorities to enable Ms. Culp to fulfill the terms of the originally imposed sentence.”

Culp was convicted of second-degree murder and possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony and sentenced to 25 years, suspended after 17 years, in prison by Judge Henry duPont Ridgely on Aug. 1, 2001 in Kent County Superior Court. Mandatory minimum sentencing guidelines called for at least 13 years of prison time.

Sean P. Lugg argued the DOJ’s case before Chief Justice Leo Strine, Justices Karen Valihura and Collins Seitz on Nov. 16. Bernard J. O’Donnell and WiIliam T. Deely represented Culp at the hearing.

On Monday, Mr. Deely described himself as “disappointed” in the Supreme Court’s finding, and declined further comment.

Culp’s motion for sentence modification was denied on May 29, 2003 and a attempt for post-conviction relief was denied in Superior Court on July 13, 2009. Both were pro se actions.

The Supreme Court noted that Culp’s window to file a motion within 90 days of sentencing had expired, making any appeal afterward untimely.

Referring to past findings, the Supreme Court noted that “participation in educational and rehabilitative programs, while commendable, does not, in and of itself, constitute ‘extraordinary circumstances …’ “

Sentence modification in Superior Court can be instituted if the DOC files an application, “for good cause shown which certifies that the release of the defendant shall not constitute a substantial risk to the community or the defendant’s own self,” according to the order.

“Good cause includes, but is not limited to, ‘rehabilitation of the offender, serious medical illness or infirmity of the offender and prison overcrowding.’…”

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