Veteran prosecutor files to run for state attorney general

Peggy Marshall Thomas

DOVER — As four Democrats fight to garner the party’s nomination for attorney general, Peggy Marshall Thomas has her eyes on the general election with hopes of doing what only one Republican has done since 1994: win a statewide race as a non-incumbent.

Ms. Thomas, 57, officially enters the race carrying with her decades of experience prosecuting criminal cases, including three years as chief Sussex County prosecutor.

“From my perspective, I’m a career prosecutor and for the past 12 years we’ve had attorney generals who’ve had little or no prosecutorial experience,” said Ms. Thomas, who retired from the Department of Justice in 2016 after 30 years.

Among the items on her platform is opposition to a proposed rewrite of the Delaware criminal code championed by some Democratic lawmakers and Chief Justice Leo Strine. Legislation to simplify the state’s criminal laws was introduced in May but never went anywhere.

Attorney General Matt Denn, who is not seeking a second term, was opposed to it.

Ms. Thomas believes officials should focus on specific issues they have with the code rather than essentially starting from scratch, which opponents fear would erase decades of case law and necessitate a time-consuming and expensive process to retrain law enforcement and prosecutors.

“I’m not opposed to some changes to the criminal code, but there are a lot of problems with the version of the bill that I’ve seen,” she said, describing it as soft on crime.

Like the other candidates, she’s concerned about the opioid epidemic, which continues to claim lives. Three hundred forty-five people fatally overdosed in Delaware last year, and while not all of those are attributable to one type of drug, 210 involved the synthetic opioid fentanyl — nearly double the number from the year before.

Ms. Thomas said she would push for expanded drug education in schools, put high-level drug dealers behind bars and continue state efforts to treat rather than incarcerate addicts.

As a part-time attorney for the state House of Representatives, a position she has held for the past year and a half, she drafted a bill that would have restored the state’s death penalty for murder, although it ultimately stalled in a Senate committee after passing the House.

While several of the Democratic candidates have shifted to the left to oppose the death penalty over the past six months, Ms. Thomas is a supporter of having a capital punishment statute.

Delaware’s death penalty was struck down by the state Supreme Court in 2016.

“I do think there are times where it’s needed and deserved for the things that are most shocking to us, like someone who’s on their fifth homicide,” Ms. Thomas said, pointing to James Allen Red Dog, who she prosecuted in 1992. Red Dog was executed by Delaware in 1993 after committing murders in several states.

She’s opposed to the legalization of marijuana “at this time” out of fear it could lead to more kids and teens turning to drugs, especially with an opioid crisis raging.

Named chief Sussex County prosecutor by then Attorney General Beau Biden in 2013, she continued in that role after Mr. Denn took over following the 2014 election. The chief prosecutor for each county is responsible for overseeing department staff and operations there and implementing the attorney general’s policies.

While Mr. Denn is a Democrat and Mr. Biden was prior to his 2015 death, Ms. Thomas said political differences never came into play during her time as a high-ranking member of the department. In an interview, she largely avoided criticizing her two former bosses, saying she wanted to focus on her campaign instead.

In addition to Ms. Thomas, three of the candidates seeking to succeed Mr. Denn have held key leadership positions with the Department of Justice. Most recently, Kathy Jennings worked for the department as state prosecutor from 2011 to 2016, while LaKresha Roberts was chief deputy attorney general from 2017 to 2018 and Tim Mullaney was chief of staff from 2011 to 2014. Chris Johnson, former deputy legal counsel for Gov. John Carney, interned with the agency.

Ms. Thomas will take on the winner of the Sept. 6 primary. M. Jane Brady, AG from 1995 to 2005, is the only woman and last Republican to hold the office.

Reach staff writer Matt Bittle at mbittle@newszap.com

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