Delaware, a state with more registered companies than residents, has a long list of problems. The governor has proposed a series of tax increases and spending cuts to close a yawning $385 million budget gap. Wilmington, the largest city, is hollowed out and crime-ridden. The venerable DuPont Co. is undergoing a convoluted merger and dismantling that will leave it a shell of the corporate giant that essentially built the state.
With all of this going on, some lawmakers from both sides of the aisle came up with the retrograde idea to bring back the death penalty.
Never mind that the Delaware Supreme Court ruled last year that the state's capital punishment law was unconstitutional because it allowed a judge, not a jury, to determine whether "aggravating circumstances" made a crime heinous enough to deserve the death penalty.
In seeking to reinstitute the death penalty, State Sen. Dave Lawson (R., Marydel) said: "Delaware has a long history of applying capital punishment cautiously, judiciously, and infrequently."
Lawson's comments appeared ignorant of recent events: Two men who spent years on death row in Delaware have been exonerated. Isaiah McCoy, 29, was released from death row in January after being acquitted of a 2010 murder. Jermaine Wright, 43, spent 24 years on death row before he was finally released from prison in September after his conviction was overturned.
McCoy and Wright join the hundreds of others nationwide who have had their wrongful convictions overturned. A 2014 study by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences estimated that 1 in 25 people are sentenced to death for crimes they did not commit.
There are many compelling reasons why the death penalty is a bad idea, including that it is costly, barbaric, and not a crime deterrent. But the chance that an innocent person could be - and has been - put to death for a crime that person did not commit should be more than enough reason to stop sending people to death row.
Most developed countries have already eliminated capital punishment. In continuing to put people to death, the United States is in bad company with authoritarian nations that have lousy track records on human rights.
Fortunately, several states have abolished the death penalty in recent years, including New Jersey in 2007. But the death penalty remains legal in 32 states, including Pennsylvania.
Gov. Wolf initiated a moratorium on the death penalty in 2015 to allow a task force to complete a study on capital punishment. The state Senate authorized the task force in 2011 to examine whether the death penalty can be legally and effectively administered. The task force was supposed to issue its findings in 2013. It is unclear what is taking so long, but it is past time for it to report.
In issuing the moratorium, Wolf questioned the effectiveness of executions and cited the wave of exonerations nationwide. The governor rightly called the capital punishment system "ineffective, unjust and expensive."