Letter to the Editor: Racial bias in death penalty

Several Delaware legislators recently announced that they are preparing to introduce another bill proposing to reinstate Delaware’s death penalty. This bill joins another, House Bill 165, that is in committee.

How do these legislators propose to prevent the execution of an innocent given that neither bill requires DNA evidence, and Delaware is already among 28 states that have exonerated individuals who have been wrongfully convicted and sentenced to death? Additionally, how do legislators propose to prevent the severe racial bias that Delaware’s death penalty has demonstrated in the past?

According to a 2012 study of Delaware’s death penalty by Cornell University Law School, “Black defendants who kill white victims are more than six times as likely to receive the death penalty as are black defendants who kill black victims. […] Moreover, black defendants who kill white victims are more than three times as likely to be sentenced to death as are white defendants who kill white victims.”

The odds of legislators managing to prevent such racial bias is unlikely. When the Delaware Supreme Court declared the statute unconstitutional in 2016, those same legislators minimized the importance of racial justice, stating, “We realize there are lingering questions about the equity of its application, but that is a separate issue than determining if capital punishment should remain an option.” Equity is not a separate, but a central issue for those who are six times more likely to get a death sentence and in cases where there is no DNA evidence.

Kristin Froelich