The bill will now face a vote in the Senate. The state lawmakers' decision came the same day that numerous American bishops pledged to fight for the abolition of capital punishment.
In a bipartisan 24-16 vote, lawmakers in the Delaware state House of Representatives passed House Bill 125, sending the legislation that would reinstate capital punishment in the mid-Atlantic state to the state Senate.
The bill mirrors the state's previous law on capital punishment that the state Supreme Court declared unconstitutional in August of 2016. In contrast to the previous statute, which allowed a judge to make the ultimate decision sentencing an individual to death, the new bill requires the unanimous and certain agreement of a trial jury for capital punishment to be applied.
A judge would still be able to soften the sentence to life in prison at his discretion, however.
Opponents of the death penalty voiced their criticism of the measure, arguing that capital punishment does not deter crime, is racially biased against minorities, is expensive and is morally wrong.
Leading death penalty opponent, Democratic Representative Sean Lynn, pointed out that the state has never carried out a constitutionally-valid execution. "You are affirmatively voting to kill people in the state of Delaware," he said.
But proponents of the death penalty contested that capital punishment effectively deters crime and argued that the sentence has a particular place in crimes where an individual is convicted for killing a law enforcement officer. Supporters pointed to death of a Delaware correctional officer after a February hostage-taking and last week's fatal shooting of a state trooper as cases where the death penalty should be allowed.
The state's democratic governor John Carney supported the state Court's unconstitutional ruling. However, he has not promised to veto any final legislation, should it be passed by the Senate.
Bishops against capital punishment
The Delaware representatives' affirmative vote came the same day as numerous American bishops meeting in Washington, DC, added their names to a pledge to fight for the abolition of the death penalty.
The pledge, a nation-wide initiative of the Catholic Mobilizing Network (CMN), calls on signatories to "educate, advocate, and pray for the end of the death penalty" in light of Pope Francis' anti-death penalty stance and in accordance with catechism of Catholic Church's promoting human dignity.
The CMN pledge campaign began in January 2017, Executive Director Karen Clifton said, and its necessity was amplified even more important with Arkansas' decision to expedite executions at the end of April.
cmb/rt (AP, KNA)