ISSUES AND ANSWERS: Death penalty appropriate for ‘horrible’ crimes

It has been a hard 18 months for first responders in Delaware where five brave and selfless public safety officers have been murdered in the line of duty: three firefighters on the Wilmington Fire Department, Lt. Christopher Leach, Senior Firefighter Jerry Fickes and Senior Firefighter Ardythe Hope; one correctional officer, Lt. Stephen R. Floyd Sr.; and one State Trooper, Cpl. Stephen J. Ballard.

Some crimes are so horrible that only the possibility of facing a death penalty has any chance of deterring a conscious, deliberate and planned murder. And so, the voters should make known their support for H.B. 125 when it comes before the Senate for a vote in January.

Thomas Neuberger

HB 125 has been carefully vetted by the Delaware Department of Justice to correct any procedural questions under our present death penalty statute and to meet all constitutional objections as to fairness and non-discrimination in its application. It allows the death penalty only in “exceptional aggravating circumstances” and only if 12 citizens on the jury agree as to its necessity and the trial judge joins with them.

After dutiful consideration of all the evidence, shouldn’t a jury of twelve Delaware citizens, taken from all walks of life, have the option of unanimously determining that death is a more fitting penalty than life in prison for certain unspeakable crimes?

One such “exceptional aggravating circumstance” we all should care deeply about is the murder of any law-enforcement officer, corrections employee, firefighter, paramedic, emergency medical technician, fire marshal or fire police officer while such victim was engaged in the performance of official duties.

Another is whenever a murder was outrageously or wantonly vile, horrible or inhuman in that it involved torture. Further, was the defendant previously convicted of another murder or manslaughter or of a felony involving the use of, or threat of, force or violence upon another person?

The February 2017 murder of correctional officer Steven Floyd by 16 convicted felons, incarcerated in our Smyrna maximum security prison, crystallizes some of these issues — four of his killers already are serving sentences of life in prison. So how can another life sentence punish them for his brutal murder or how can it deter them from murdering other public safety officers in the future within our prison? Moreover, I know that he was brutally tortured for over 16 hours in ways which defy imagining.

And so, I urge that there are and can be “exceptional aggravating circumstances” when a death penalty may be appropriate in the eyes of 12 of our fellow Delaware citizens and an experienced Delaware judge.

Does your senator agree? Are he or she for or against the death penalty for the murders I describe? How will they vote on H.B. 125?

Time is of the essence here. The first-degree murder trial for the person who allegedly killed three firefighters is scheduled for March 2018, so justice delayed will be justice denied for their families or their orphan children.

Thomas Neuberger is a Wilmington attorney with the Neuberger Firm who is running for Delaware attorney general. His firm recently represented 11 claimants in a lawsuit against the state in connection with the deadly Feb. 1 inmate uprising at Vaughn prison. The estate of Lt. Steven Floyd, the correctional officer murdered in the riot, and his family were among the claimants. A $7.5 million settlement (largest state-paid settlement in Delaware history) was announced in the case in mid-December.

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