January 01, 2012

First Clemency Granted in Delaware in Modern Death Penalty Era

Rebecca Katz

For the first time in the modern death penalty era, the governor of Delaware granted clemency to a death-sentenced prisoner. On January 15, 2012, the Delaware Board of Pardons recommended that Richard Gattis’s death sentence be commuted to life imprisonment without chance of parole. Governor Jack Markell agreed with the Board’s recommendation and commuted his sentence.

Mr. Gattis was convicted of killing his girlfriend and sentenced to death in 1992. In a statement accompanying its decision, the Board recognized newly available mitigating facts regarding the profound abuse Mr. Gattis suffered as a child. In his clemency petition, Mr. Gattis detailed vicious physical abuse by his father and stepfather, in addition to sexual abuse by several family members beginning as early as age three. Mr. Gattis complained of mental illness and violent impulses to medical professionals more than one year before the crime occurred. The United States Supreme Court has long held that aggravating and mitigating circumstances must be considered before imposition of a death sentence and that failure to do so violates the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment.

The Board also stated that Mr. Gattis has no prospect of release and is no longer a potential danger to society, whether he is sentenced to death or not. Mr. Gattis will spend the remainder of his life in prison, and he has agreed to waive all future appeals as a condition of the grant of clemency.

Rebecca Katz

Project Associate