Guest Post — Statement in Support of Senate Bill 19 by Stewart Dotts

Filed in National by on March 26, 2013

Today the Senate is expected to debate and vote on Senate Bill 19, to abolish Delaware’s death penalty. We have the honor of publishing this Guest Post by Mr. Stewart Dotts — this was his testimony from last Tuesday’s (3/20/2013) committee hearing on the bill. Mr. Dotts also served as a juror in the capital murder trial of James Cooke. After I read this, I was really sorry I couldn’t have been at that hearing. This is powerful testimony. Mr. Dotts has given us permission to reprint his testimony in its entirety. And even though debate and vote is today, there is still time to reach out and let your Senator know that you support REPEALING the death penalty in Delaware and that they should vote YES to repeal. Reach out to them here, from the Repeal Project website. Read Mr. Dotts first:

My name is Stewart Dotts. I am 59 years old and have lived in Newark since 1990 .

I have voted for both republicans and democrats: I am a father, a wrestling coach, and an ultra-marathon runner.

I am also a strong supporter of ending the death penalty in Delaware.

I wasn’t always opposed to the death penalty. I used to believe that our society’s worst criminals deserved the ultimate punishment.

Then one day, I received a summons to appear for jury service. Shortly after reporting to the courthouse, I was one of 15 jurors selected for the capital murder trial of James Cooke. My fellow jurors were a desirable cross section of our society. I am a teacher. There was an accountant, a lawyer, an elementary school teacher, various office workers, union members, men and women, young and old, and black and white. We were just regular folks.
Then the trial started. Opening statements focused us on our task: We were to determine the facts of the case, render a verdict, and ultimately decide whether Mr. Cooke should die for his crime. Of course, as with all other juries, we were instructed to shut off all communications with the rest of world. We all complied.

We sat for hours each day contemplating and analyzing the murder of Lindsey Bonistall. We sat for hours each day contemplating and analyzing the childhood, social development, and ultimate destruction of a child turned murderer. Fine, regular people-your friends and neighbors- set about to do the job that society set before them.

We were the jury. Twelve regular, untrained citizens assumed the burden of determining whether or not James Cooke would die for this crime. That is, your child’s kindergarten teacher, your dentist, the accountant next door, your grandma, your 19 year-old daughter, and other “regular” folks were asked to immerse themselves for weeks in the details of a violent murder, to experience sleepless nights rehashing testimony, and not talk of it, all the while isolated from their normal life. And then when we were completely immersed in this emotional hell, we were required to swiftly decide whether we should kill this man before us. Amidst all this turmoil we, the jury, responded: “We will kill him if you say so.” Thus, we did.

And thus, I became a killer, too. It was legal and it was my duty. But I felt sick. For days I was unable to joke with friends or sleep at night. For weeks I was unable to stop reliving that singular moment when I wrote “death” on a tiny slip of paper. For months I awoke every night from unrelenting and vivid dreams of James Cooke’s execution. I followed and still follow every element of Cooke’s appeal. I will never be the same. And even though I know that I did nothing wrong, I will always carry the stain of one who has killed a fellow human.

As a society we must punish people for their crimes. We must protect our children from violent offenders. Life without the possibility of parole accomplishes these goals without turning innocent folks into accomplices to the premeditated killing of an individual.

I submit that those with no personal experience in this process fail to recognize the inconceivable burden that we place on the innocent participants in capital trials. I submit that the real harm we do to our innocent grandmas, children, neighbors, and public servants outweighs any potential benefit that society might (might!) derive from the vengeful killing of criminals. The calculus of killing a criminal in exchange for the emotional and mental well-being of numerous blameless citizens- of society at large- is flawed.

So let’s end capital punishment. Not for the criminal, but for ourselves.

Yes. Let’s end it for us. Thank you Mr. Dotts for serving your community when called — on the jury and for this.

Be sure to contact your legislator TODAY to ask them to support the repeal the death penalty.

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  1. Lisa says:

    There is not a thoughtful, conscientious person among us who wouldn’t say that the process Mr. Dotts went through was traumatic and difficult. However, the violent death of a human being is even more so. There are times when the death penalty seems the only reasonable response to violence. It is not lost on me that this is anathema to the spiritual views I claim to espouse – that of Quakerism and peacemaking. Nevertheless, I am somewhat surprised to read about how no one believes that the death penalty acts as a deterrent. It seems to me that it is an absolute deterrent, at least a deterrent to that one criminal from every committing another murder – or another crime for that matter. You can’t commit a crime if you yourself are dead. It is good that we are having this debate, and perhaps wise that we take a look at the current laws to see if there need to be stricter guidelines as to when we apply such a drastic punishment. However, as a mother of two boys, I know in my heart of hearts that if someone were to have stolen one of my boys away from me when they were small – stolen and then molested, sodomized and raped them, and ultimately killed them, I would have no problem with putting that person to death for his crimes. I ask any mother to consider how she would feel if this ultimate crime were visited upon her children. If we take this issue and make it personal, we may all find that our views change to allow for more options.

  2. Paula says:

    And yet, Lisa, what if your son were the convicted murderer? Would you advocate putting him to death to ensure he would never do it again? Or would life in prison be assurance enough?

    As you said yourself, “If we take this issue and make it personal, we may all find that our views change to allow for more options.”

  3. Geezer says:

    “It seems to me that it is an absolute deterrent, at least a deterrent to that one criminal from every committing another murder – or another crime for that matter.”

    Just as we could assure that you never commit a crime by killing you. What, disproportionate, you say? Then how is it not disproportionate to rationally, coldly kill someone for a murder committed under the heat of passion — the condition under which most murders are committed?

    “I ask any mother to consider how she would feel if this ultimate crime were visited upon her children. If we take this issue and make it personal, we may all find that our views change to allow for more options.”

    You know what? You want to kill the guy, do it yourself. Don’t force the state to do your dirty work.

  4. cassandra m says:

    And this is exactly what Mr. Dotts is reacting to:
    However, the violent death of a human being is even more so.

    He is reacting to have been made a party to and enabler of one more death, and doesn’t think that any of us deserve to have the blood on our hands, either. The death penalty isn’t much of a deterrent, and we have seen too many sentenced to death only to be released on better DNA evidence later. So the system that can condemn someone to death isn’t infallible. And it should be since that system can’t restore life. What you, Lisa, are asking the state to do is to get revenge for the loss of a loved one. You are entitled to justice from the state — not revenge.

  5. Idealist says:

    SB 19 passed the Senate 11-10!

  6. John Kowalko III says:

    Thankfully, 3 Republican Senators are more humane and reasonable than 5 Democratic Senators.

  7. Lisa says:

    I’m saying there is always more than one side to every story. Making an assumption that something is wrong as a knee-jerk reaction is never helpful. This is an important issue that deserves a lot of thoughtful debate. To those same people who immediately state that someone who is in favor of the death penalty is nothing more than a common murderer, I would ask if your opinion is the same about someone who believes in or undergone an abortion. Or is abortion different because the human being “murdered” hasn’t been born yet?

  8. pandora says:

    We don’t form a jury to decide who will have an abortion (altho the GOP is trying) because abortion is a legal medical procedure. It has nothing – nothing – in common with the death penalty.

  9. John Kowalko III says:

    In addition to your point, pandora, I have never heard someone call a supporter of the death penalty a common murderer. Lisa’s comment seems to be erroneous on multiple levels.

  10. cassandra m says:

    And I can’t figure out where the *assumption* of wrong is. If murder is wrong unto itself, then I wish the people in favor of the death penalty could justify one more murder without indulging their revenge fantasies.

  11. Lisa says:

    I’m not justifying another murder, nor do I have a revenge fantasy. Thankfully, none of any of these horrible events have ever happened to me or to anyone I know. I’m just trying to keep an open mind about all of it, look at both sides of am argument, and perhaps play devil’s advocate. If it spurs debate, then it will have been worth it.

  12. Tom Hawk says:

    On a personal basis, there have been crimes that I would vote for execution as punishment. But, I recognize that we as humans are capable of mistakes when it comes to prosecution. Prosecutors may fudge the evidences, police may leave out some details, personal animosity may influence the juror. Defense attorneys may not do due diligence. In more than one case later evidence, especially in the form of DNA evidence, has shown the convicted as innocent. If the execution has already occurred then there is no means of correcting a mistake and preventing a needless and otherwise needless death. Life time imprisonment without parole removes the individual from society. But at the same time, allows for the correction of mistakes made by fallible humans. And I am not even touching upon the cost to the taxpayers for years of constitutional appeals.