All pending capital murder trials and executions in Delaware have been halted until the state supreme court determines the constitutionality of the state’s death penalty law, reports the Wilmington News Journal. The stay, issued by President Judge Jan Jurden on Monday, is expected to affect at least four death penalty cases that were scheduled to go to trial in the next 120 days. No executions had been scheduled for the coming months. The stay will give the Delaware Supreme Court time to consider five questions that have arisen in light of a U.S. Supreme court decision striking down Florida’s death penalty system.
The high court said Florida gave too much power to judges instead of juries. In that case, a man was convicted of the 1998 murder of his manager at a Popeye’s restaurant in Pensacola and was sentenced to death by a judge. Delaware, Alabama and Florida are the only states that allow judges to override a jury’s recommendation of life and, instead, impose a sentence of death. Judges in Delaware have not been using that power. The Supreme Court ruling left prosecutors, defense attorneys and judges in Delaware with many questions about how to proceed in the state’s approximately two dozen death penalty cases and with the 14 men on death row.