The Death Penalty in Delaware

Delaware’s political history has proven that there may never be a last word in the debate concerning the use of the death penalty, but recent legislation has pushed for the state to repeal the bill supporting it.


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Only once in 22 years on the court did Judge William Swain Lee have to decide to sentence someone to death. No doubt people still remember the circumstances.

Lee presided at the murder trial of Tom Capano in what could truly be called Delaware’s crime of the last century, the death and disappearance of Anne Marie Fahey, the governor’s sociable scheduler, at the hands of a dashing lawyer who had wealth and connections and moved in all the best circles, until a subterranean dark and feral streak got the best of him.

The case was the stuff of books and true-crime television, with a missing victim, a cooler-turned-coffin discovered at sea, brother against brother, a mistress caught in the middle and a profusion of courtroom histrionics. As it concluded in 1999, after the prosecutors, defense attorneys, witnesses, jurors and even Capano himself had their say, Lee alone was left to make the ultimate of determinations.

“I was in the Marine Corps. It is a lot tougher than it looks,” Lee says.

Capital punishment commonly is a matter for the courts, but this year it spilled beyond the judicial branch into the legislative and executive branches with the introduction of a bill proposing to repeal the state’s death penalty.

It forced a lot of public officials to wrestle with the rightness of a death sentence just as Lee did, shortly before he left the bench to follow what would be an unsatisfied dream for governor as a Republican candidate.

“One night I had a very restless sleep. When I finally made up my mind about what I was going to do, I got a good night’s sleep. It comes once you’re confident you’ve done the right thing,” Lee says.

“I was one of the judges who really believed the death penalty was a deterrent. In the Capano case, the compelling thing was he had tried to hire people inside of prison to kill his brother and his mistress, and I was genuinely fearful for Colm Connolly [the prosecutor], as long as Capano was alive.”

Lee’s remarks at Capano’s sentencing were among the most memorable in the annals of the court.

“He faces judgment because he is a ruthless murderer who feels compassion for no one and remorse only for the circumstances in which he finds himself. He is a malignant force from whom no one he deems disloyal or adversarial can be secure, even if he is incarcerated for the rest of his life,” Lee said.

“If the virtuous Tom Capano had ever existed, he no longer did.”

Capano’s death sentence was overturned after a ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court revisiting jury votes on capital punishment. He died in prison at the age of 61 in 2011.

The General Assembly found its consideration of the death penalty every bit as lacerating as Lee did. In a session that had the legislature also dealing with gay marriage, gun legislation and taxes, it was the repeal of the death penalty that seemed to be the most confounding of all.

“This is probably the most difficult bill that I’ve had to vote on since I was a senator,” said Bob Venables, a Democrat from Laurel, and he has been in the Senate since 1988.

“People of good conscience can disagree on this issue,” said Greg Lavelle, the Senate’s Republican minority whip from Brandywine Hundred.

The repeal bill was sponsored with bipartisan help by Karen Peterson, a Democratic senator from Stanton. She said the legislation has been in the works over the last couple of years in talks with other lawmakers, most notably Gary Simpson, the Senate’s Republican minority leader from Milford, and Melanie George Smith, a Democratic representative from Bear.

The most prominent opponent was Beau Biden, the Democratic attorney general. As Kathleen Jennings, the state’s top prosecutor, told the legislature, “We support the law as it is. We believe the law deserves to be intact in the state of Delaware for the most heinous of criminal acts.”

As if in evidence of how wrenching a decision this is, there was a scant, single-vote margin in the Senate to pass the repeal bill by 11-10. By press time, the House of Representatives had not decided whether to let the bill even come up for a vote but left it in the Judiciary Committee.

In the form approved by the Senate, the bill would eliminate the death penalty going forward, but would allow the executions to proceed for 17 inmates currently on death row. It drew the legislature into a cosmic interplay of morality, religion, justice and politics.

Peterson was moved to observe that the Senate debate took place during Holy Week, with its everlasting evocation of Pontius Pilate washing his hands of the most consequential public execution in the human experience.

From Peterson’s perspective, it made no sense for the state to say that taking a life is wrong and then take a life itself, implicating every Delawarean in it. “It is homicide, and it is wrong,” she said.

Delaware has not always had the death penalty on the books, but almost always. It was repealed in 1958, only to be reinstated in 1961 after the brutal double murder of Lorenzo and Mamie Whaley, a couple who lived in Laurel.

The debate over the death penalty was highly charged back then, too, as Bert Carvel, the Democratic governor at the time, tried to veto its return, but was overridden by the legislature. Carvel, who died in 2005, came to say that his stand on the death penalty was a prime reason he never won another election.

Repealed or not, what happened more than 50 years ago shows there may never be a last word, not in the case of a debate that resonates in the public’s emotions as deeply as this one. There is something to be said for that, too. “These are the kinds of questions a democracy ought to consider,” Judge Lee says.  

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February 2018

A winter warm up of colorful, vibrant paintings. Marlene Dubin - bold mixed media abstracts; Elaine Lisle - regional landscapes in oil; Mary Ann Weselyk – whimsical animals and still life...

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The Station Gallery
3922 Kennett Pike
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Cost: 10

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Greater Philadelphia Expo Center
100 Station Ave
Oaks, PA  19456
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Sponsor: MarketPlace Events
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Delaware Theatre Company
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Cost: $10

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Cinema Art Theater
17701 Dartmouth Drive, #2
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Sponsor: Rehoboth Beach Film Society
Telephone: 302-645-9095
Contact Name: Jeri Kaplan
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Cost: $10-$15

Where:
Wilmington Drama League
10 West Lea Blvd.
Wilmington, DE  19802
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Cost: Free

Where:
Mezzanine Gallery
Carvel State Office Building, 2nd Floor
820 N. French St.
Wilmington, DE  19801
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Sponsor: Delaware Division of the Arts
Telephone: 302-577-8278
Contact Name: Roxanne Stanulis
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A winter warm up of colorful, vibrant paintings. Marlene Dubin - bold mixed media abstracts; Elaine Lisle - regional landscapes in oil; Mary Ann Weselyk – whimsical animals and still life...

Cost: free

Where:
The Station Gallery
3922 Kennett Pike
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View map »


Telephone: 302-654-8638
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By Simon Stephens (playwright of "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time") Directed by Matt Pfeiffer REGIONAL PREMIERE! Amidst the bustle of a crowded London train...

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Delaware Theatre Company
200 Water Street
Wilmington, DE  19801
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Cost: $15 adults; $10 UD faculty/staff/alumni & seniors; $5 students

Where:
Gore Recital Hall
110 Orchard Rd
Newark, DE  19716
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Sponsor: University of Delaware Department of Music
Telephone: 130-283-12578
Contact Name: Megan Everhart
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"What the water said…Flowers, Places, & Faces," an exhibition of watercolor paintings by Hugh Phibbs, will be on view in the Mezzanine Gallery from February 2-23, 2018. A free...

Cost: Free

Where:
Mezzanine Gallery
Carvel State Office Building, 2nd Floor
820 N. French St.
Wilmington, DE  19801
View map »


Sponsor: Delaware Division of the Arts
Telephone: 302-577-8278
Contact Name: Roxanne Stanulis
Website »

More information

A winter warm up of colorful, vibrant paintings. Marlene Dubin - bold mixed media abstracts; Elaine Lisle - regional landscapes in oil; Mary Ann Weselyk – whimsical animals and still life...

Cost: free

Where:
The Station Gallery
3922 Kennett Pike
Greenville, DE  19807
View map »


Telephone: 302-654-8638
Website »

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Cost: Call for cost.

Where:
Nanticoke Memorial Hospital
801 Middleford Road
Seaford, DE  19973
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Telephone: 302-629-6611 x2288
Contact Name: Nanticoke's Diabetes Education Department
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Cost: Varies

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Delaware Theatre Company
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"What the water said…Flowers, Places, & Faces," an exhibition of watercolor paintings by Hugh Phibbs, will be on view in the Mezzanine Gallery from February 2-23, 2018. A free...

Cost: Free

Where:
Mezzanine Gallery
Carvel State Office Building, 2nd Floor
820 N. French St.
Wilmington, DE  19801
View map »


Sponsor: Delaware Division of the Arts
Telephone: 302-577-8278
Contact Name: Roxanne Stanulis
Website »

More information

A winter warm up of colorful, vibrant paintings. Marlene Dubin - bold mixed media abstracts; Elaine Lisle - regional landscapes in oil; Mary Ann Weselyk – whimsical animals and still life...

Cost: free

Where:
The Station Gallery
3922 Kennett Pike
Greenville, DE  19807
View map »


Telephone: 302-654-8638
Website »

More information

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Cost: Free with Museum admission

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Delaware Art Museum
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Cost: FREE

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Faith Victory Christian Center
301 Commonwealth Avenue
Claymont, DE  19703
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Sponsor: Faith Victory Christian Center
Telephone: 302.354.6726
Contact Name: Alvin Walker
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Delaware Center for Horticulture
1810 N. Dupont Street
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Cost: Free

Where:
Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Newark
420 Willa Road
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"What the water said…Flowers, Places, & Faces," an exhibition of watercolor paintings by Hugh Phibbs, will be on view in the Mezzanine Gallery from February 2-23, 2018. A free...

Cost: Free

Where:
Mezzanine Gallery
Carvel State Office Building, 2nd Floor
820 N. French St.
Wilmington, DE  19801
View map »


Sponsor: Delaware Division of the Arts
Telephone: 302-577-8278
Contact Name: Roxanne Stanulis
Website »

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A winter warm up of colorful, vibrant paintings. Marlene Dubin - bold mixed media abstracts; Elaine Lisle - regional landscapes in oil; Mary Ann Weselyk – whimsical animals and still life...

Cost: free

Where:
The Station Gallery
3922 Kennett Pike
Greenville, DE  19807
View map »


Telephone: 302-654-8638
Website »

More information

This community-curated exhibition brings together three painters—Alan Soffer, Brian Dickerson, and Moe Brooker—who are attuned to harmonies and contrasts in abstract forms. Each artist...

Cost: Free with Museum admission

Where:
Delaware Art Museum
2301 Kentmere Parkway
Wilmington, DE  19806
View map »


Website »

More information

By Simon Stephens (playwright of "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time") Directed by Matt Pfeiffer REGIONAL PREMIERE! Amidst the bustle of a crowded London train...

Cost: Varies

Where:
Delaware Theatre Company
200 Water Street
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STAR Health Sciences Complex
540 S. College Ave
Newark, DE  19713
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Explore connections between people and plants in these four inspiring presentations. Special thanks to Whole Foods Market for sponsoring this  year’s refreshments. Individual lecture pricing:...

Cost: $20 members; $30 non-members

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Delaware Center for Horticulture
1810 N. Dupont Street
Wilmington, DE  19806
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Sponsor: Delaware Center for Horticulture
Telephone: (302) 658-6262
Contact Name: Mackenzie Knight-Fochs
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Tickets are $15 adults; $10 UD faculty/staff/alumni & seniors; $5 students. Tickets are available at the door. Cash or check only.

Cost: $15 adults; $10 UD faculty/staff/alumni & seniors; $5 students

Where:
Gore Recital Hall
110 Orchard Rd
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View map »


Sponsor: University of Delaware Department of Music
Telephone: 130-283-12578
Contact Name: Megan Everhart
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Show More...
Show Less...

"What the water said…Flowers, Places, & Faces," an exhibition of watercolor paintings by Hugh Phibbs, will be on view in the Mezzanine Gallery from February 2-23, 2018. A free...

Cost: Free

Where:
Mezzanine Gallery
Carvel State Office Building, 2nd Floor
820 N. French St.
Wilmington, DE  19801
View map »


Sponsor: Delaware Division of the Arts
Telephone: 302-577-8278
Contact Name: Roxanne Stanulis
Website »

More information

A winter warm up of colorful, vibrant paintings. Marlene Dubin - bold mixed media abstracts; Elaine Lisle - regional landscapes in oil; Mary Ann Weselyk – whimsical animals and still life...

Cost: free

Where:
The Station Gallery
3922 Kennett Pike
Greenville, DE  19807
View map »


Telephone: 302-654-8638
Website »

More information

The area’s largest sale of gently used books has been scheduled by the Wilmington branch of the American Association of University Women. The 49th annual Dollars for Scholars Used Book Sale, to...

Cost: free

Where:
Concord Mall
4737 Concord Pike
North Wilmington, DE  19803
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Sponsor: American Association of University Women
Telephone: 302-428-0939

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This community-curated exhibition brings together three painters—Alan Soffer, Brian Dickerson, and Moe Brooker—who are attuned to harmonies and contrasts in abstract forms. Each artist...

Cost: Free with Museum admission

Where:
Delaware Art Museum
2301 Kentmere Parkway
Wilmington, DE  19806
View map »


Website »

More information

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Cost: Free to Members, $5 per child and one adult free for Non-Members

Where:
Delaware Art Museum
2301 Kentmere Parkway
Wilmington, DE  19806
View map »

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By Simon Stephens (playwright of "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time") Directed by Matt Pfeiffer REGIONAL PREMIERE! Amidst the bustle of a crowded London train...

Cost: Varies

Where:
Delaware Theatre Company
200 Water Street
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More information

Meeting every Friday, Bayhealth Kent General Hospital, 640 s. State Street, Dover, 7:30 pm., Private Dining Room #3 in the basement. For those who have, or think they may have a gambling problem....

Cost: 0.00

Where:
Bayhealth Kent General Hospital
640 S. State Street
Private Dining Room #3
Dover, DE  19901
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Telephone: 800-855-2CALLGA
Website »

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A winter warm up of colorful, vibrant paintings. Marlene Dubin - bold mixed media abstracts; Elaine Lisle - regional landscapes in oil; Mary Ann Weselyk – whimsical animals and still life...

Cost: free

Where:
The Station Gallery
3922 Kennett Pike
Greenville, DE  19807
View map »


Telephone: 302-654-8638
Website »

More information

The area’s largest sale of gently used books has been scheduled by the Wilmington branch of the American Association of University Women. The 49th annual Dollars for Scholars Used Book Sale, to...

Cost: free

Where:
Concord Mall
4737 Concord Pike
North Wilmington, DE  19803
View map »


Sponsor: American Association of University Women
Telephone: 302-428-0939

More information

This community-curated exhibition brings together three painters—Alan Soffer, Brian Dickerson, and Moe Brooker—who are attuned to harmonies and contrasts in abstract forms. Each artist...

Cost: Free with Museum admission

Where:
Delaware Art Museum
2301 Kentmere Parkway
Wilmington, DE  19806
View map »


Website »

More information

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Cost: Free

Where:
Gore Recital Hall
110 Orchard Rd
Newark, DE  19716
View map »


Sponsor: University of Delaware Department of Music
Telephone: 130-283-12578
Contact Name: Megan Everhart
Website »

More information

Celebrate the 12th Annual Chinese New Year at the Delaware Art Museum! This celebration includes traditional Chinese art activities, artist demonstrations, a lion and folk dance, a Chinese yo-yo...

Cost: Free; donations accepted

Where:
Delaware Art Museum
2301 Kentmere Parkway
Wilmington, DE  19806
View map »


Website »

More information

By Simon Stephens (playwright of "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time") Directed by Matt Pfeiffer REGIONAL PREMIERE! Amidst the bustle of a crowded London train...

Cost: Varies

Where:
Delaware Theatre Company
200 Water Street
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Cost: Free with admission; Adults: $14, Children 6-14: $5, Children 5 and under: Free

Where:
Hagley Museum and Library
200 Hagley Creek Road
Wilmington, DE  19807
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Telephone: 302-658-2400
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Cost: *VIP $125.00; *Silver Mirror Ball $50.00

Where:
Dover Downs Hotel
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Sponsor: Delaware Breast Cancer Coalition
Telephone: 302-778-1102
Contact Name: Eliza Mohler
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Cost: 0 - $20

Where:
Newark United Methodist Church
69 E. Main St.
Newark, DE  19711
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