Kent County judge cuts convicted murderer Culp’s sentence

DOVER — Describing a 56-year-old convicted murderer as a “beacon” of hope for other inmates due to her rehabilitation efforts while imprisoned, a Kent County Superior Court judge reduced her sentence Monday to Level III probation status.

Catherine W. Culp was incarcerated at Delores J. Baylor Women’s Correctional Institution in New Castle since fatally shooting her boyfriend Lee B. Hicks on July 29, 1998, after a party south of Canterbury.

She sought a sentence modification before Judge Robert B. Young last week.

Judge Young issued the order Monday, ruling that Culp’s situation met extraordinary criteria for sentence reduction. He cited her progress in “mental health, work skills and educational” as examples of her “tremendously ambitious efforts” toward rehabilitation.

The status of her release was not immediately known.

Attorney William Deely argued for a modified sentence last week. He cited Ms. Culp’s remorse and positive time while incarcerated. He noted extensive rehabilitation efforts, mentoring, education, counseling, and work within prison that benefited herself and other inmates.

“Based on the totality of the circumstances in this case I believe it was the just thing to do,” Mr. Deely said after the order was issued.

Deputy Attorney General Jason Cohee contended that no case law showed that extraordinary circumstances were present, chiefly a lack of medical concerns, and questioned Culp’s regret compared to Mr. Hicks’ family members reaction to their loss in the aftermath.

“We don’t have a comment on the decision,” Attorney General office spokesman Carl Kanefsky said.

The state’s Board of Pardons denied a request for a shortened sentence in November 2012.

Judge Young maintained that “rehabilitation is at least one aspect of the Delaware penal system” and punishment is not “the singular purpose of a sentence …”

While Judge Young understood the late Mr. Hicks’ family wishes that Culp serve a full sentence, he said in the order, “Nevertheless, Culp’s progress during the (nearly 18 years of incarceration), most of which are well documented … is extensive.”

The order noted that Culp earned an associate’s degree in applied science in marketing from Ashworth College in Atlanta, graduating as an honor student and achieving a 3.15 grade-point average.

“That is just the culmination of her academic pursuits,” Judge Young wrote in the order.

Also, Culp took GED courses, participated in state-funded counseling program Thresholds, many drug education classes “and much more,” Judge Young said. Her 11-year service as an educational tutor in prison was described as “exemplary” in documentation, according to the court.

“Through many courses — several of 400 hour duration — she has qualified herself to teach (and has taught) a variety of courses to other inmates,” Judge Young determined in his order.

Once freed from prison, Judge Young believes Culp’s completion of computer courses, including earning a state of Delaware computer operator certificate, would prepare her transition into “an outside world of rapidly changing” technology.

“On a less specific, but significant, level of transition into a ‘normal living’ and community beneficial capacity, (Culp) has attained abilities in Spanish, culinary arts, diverse aspects of women’s health, public speaking, dancing and floral design,” Judge Young wrote.

“These pursuits will help normalize Culp’s transition into the community, and heighten her benefit to that community.”

From an emotional standpoint Culp “has expressed, in a variety of forms, great remorse for her actions causing her conviction,” according to Judge Young.

“Not only do those expressions project with sincerity, they are founded upon significant religious courses, activities and projects which Culp has pursued throughout her incarceration. Unsolicited letters from religious leaders endorse that.”

Judge Young thus modified the 17-year sentence that included 13 years of mandatory minimum time, and noted that two years of Level III probation could be transferred to Florida if Culp, who lived in the state prior to her arrest, meets interstate transfer requirements.

“Critical to order in a penal institution is the presence of hope for inmates to perceive through their periods of their imprisonment,” the judge said.

“It is difficult to imagine a better beacon for others than the example that Culp has provided through her extensive time, and consequently the justice’s system’s acknowledgment of that.”

Extraordinary circumstances were earned by Culp “in the clearest manner that (Superior Court Criminal) Rule 35 (a) could conceive, for a reduction of her sentence,” the judge ruled.

Judge Henry duPont Ridgely originally issued the consecutive sentences.

Reach staff writer Craig Anderson at canderson@newszap.com

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