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.