Today, for the first time in the paper's history, the Delaware News Journal has published an editorial in support of clemency in a death penalty case.
Delaware's Board of Pardons has recommended that condemned prisoner Robert Gattis be allowed to live. The decision came this weekend in a thoughtful, judicious recommendation to the governor.
Mr. Gattis was condemned to death in 1992 for the earlier murder of Shirley Slay. Execution is scheduled for Jan. 20. No one disputed his guilt in the matter. The only question is the severity of the original sentence.
The Board of Pardons' 4-to-1 decision came almost a week after Mr. Gattis appeared before the board to ask for the clemency recommendation. In addition to rarely recommending clemency, board decisions usually come much more quickly than this one did.
It was obvious from the members' questioning at the hearing, from the length of their deliberation and from their statement Sunday, they took seriously the questions about Mr. Gattis' sentence.
These issues included the history of severe physical and sexual abuse Mr. Gattis suffered as a child. That history did not come to light until long after his trial. The board also noted that the jury's recommendation of the death penalty was not unanimous. In addition, the board pointed out that the punishment meted out in similar crimes did not call for the death penalty. For all of that, the board recommended clemency.
The board members added the condition that Mr. Gattis drop his legal appeals. In other words, he should spend the rest of his life behind bars. That condition is appropriate.
We hope Gov. Jack Markell accepts the board's recommendation and spares Mr. Gattis' life.