Letters to the Editor — April 25, 2014

Justice for all — who can afford it


Two recent news stories have strengthened my conviction that we must repeal capital punishment in Delaware.

In January, prosecutors opened a sealed envelope from the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner in Wilmington during a drug prosecution case in Kent County and discovered Oxycontin pills had been replaced with blood pressure medicine. Since then, over 60 cases of tainted evidence have been discovered, and there are thousands of drug samples from 2010 to the present yet to be tested.

I have heard over and over again that we don’t execute innocent people in Delaware. How can anyone say that with certainty — especially in light of the ongoing investigation of massive contamination of evidence in the Medical Examiner’s office? Judges and prosecutors are humans, subject to the same human frailties we all possess. We all make mistakes.

I have also heard the argument that we have a legal system that protects the defendant. Sadly, I think the reality is we have a legal system that protects the defendants who can afford to pay for their own defense.

In June 2008, a state prosecutor offered Robert Richards IV a plea to a single count of fourth-degree rape of his 3-year-old daughter, which carries no mandatory time. Richards accepted, admitting in court that he abused his child. Superior Court Judge Jan Jurden, at the recommendation of the prosecution, suspended an eight-year prison sentence and sentenced Richards to a treatment program for sex offenders.

Richards’ attorney commented, “It was more than reasonable, an enlightened plea offer.” As a multi-millionaire, Richards could afford to hire a private attorney to defend him. Even though I disagree with the decision of Judge Jan Jurden, who has been described as “an outstanding jurist” by Delaware’s Attorney General and a number of lawyers and their professional organizations, I acknowledge Robert Richards’ right to use his financial resources to engage a lawyer or legal team to get him the best deal possible.

But the vast majority of capital defendants don’t have Robert Richards’ money. An article in the National Law Journal concluded that capital trials are “more like a random flip of the coin than a delicate balancing of scales,” because the defense attorney is “too often … ill-trained, unprepared [and] grossly underpaid.”

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has observed that “People who are well represented at trial do not get the death penalty. ... I have yet to see a death case among the dozens coming to the Supreme Court on eve-of-execution stay applications in which the defendant was well-represented at trial.”

Study after study has shown that whether or not a defendant will be sentenced to death depends more on the quality of his legal team than any other factor.

Until we can change the sad reality that a person’s wealth determines the quality of his or her defense, and until we can say humans never make mistakes, the state has no right to execute a human being.

Joanne Cabry, Chair
Progressive Democrats of Sussex County

Reader calls for bill to be released for vote


It’s time to let the House of Representatives vote on repealing the death penalty.

Senate Bill 19 calls for the repeal of the death penalty. After passing the Senate, the bill was placed in the House Judiciary Committee in March 2013, and there it remains because there are not sufficient committee members willing to vote to release it. The vote was 6 to 5, according to one representative.

I believe committee members who voted against releasing SB 19 should explain why they are blocking their fellow representatives from voting on this very important bill. Perhaps they could also explain why the criteria for releasing a bill are different in the House and the Senate? In March 2013, the Senate Executive Committee determined it was ready and appropriate to release the bill to the full Senate for a vote. Yet the House committee has had the bill tabled for over a year.

A representative has the right to vote against repeal of the death penalty, but the place to cast that vote is on the House floor, not in a committee hearing.

Connie Jones

Reader only sees problems with HB 105


HB 105 will allow same-day voter registration in Delaware. I fail to see the benefits behind this legislation but see a lot of problems that will occur and fraudulent voting practices that this legislation will promote.

In order to insure that multi-voting or other fraudulent practices do not occur, we need a real-time computer system that allows a poll worker to record when each person votes (and where) and immediately flags second attempts or identification anomalies and alerts the poll worker. There is nothing in this bill that stipulates these necessities.

Pre-registration was established so that the voter’s address could be verified. If the voter’s address is found to be inaccurate, the vote is not removed from the tally, which makes it a false vote.

There is enough voter fraud in this country all ready. New investigations are turning up more voter fraud all the time. The recent voter fraud that was uncovered in North Carolina should convince all of us that legislation like this is nonsense. The last thing we need is a bill that will invite more voter fraud.

Please contact your senator and ask them to vote no on House Bill 105.

Linda Shinn