Delaware Gov. Jack Markell has decided to spare the life of a man who was facing execution this week for the 1990 murder of his girlfriend.
Robert Gattis was scheduled to die by lethal injection Friday for killing Shirley Slay.
But Markell has decided to accept a recommendation from the state Board of Pardons that he commute Gattis' death sentence to life in prison without parole.
Markell says the decision to grant clemency to Gattis is among the most difficult he has made as a public official, and that he realizes it may cause pain to Slay's family.
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But the governor also said he gives great weight to the decision by the pardons board, which reviewed Gattis' case thoroughly and voted 4 to 1 for commutation.
Members agreed with defense lawyers that the courts never properly weighed the physical and sexual abuse Gattis suffered as a child.
Gattis' lawyers John Deckers and Karl Schwartz were "extremely grateful" that Markell spared their client's life:
"On behalf of Mr. Gattis, we are extremely grateful and humbled by Governor Markell's morally courageous and historic decision to grant clemency. We thank all of the supporters including legislators, former judges and prosecutors, clergy, mental health professionals, community leaders and concerned citizens, who lent their voices to this effort. Once again, we express our deepest sorrow to the Slay family for the loss of their loved one and hope that in time they will find the peace they deserve."
Delaware Attorney General Beau Biden issued the following statement following Markell's decision:
"Over the past twenty years state and federal courts on sixteen separate occasions unanimously determined there was no legal, factual, or procedural error in this case. Each reviewing court has upheld Robert Gattis' conviction and death sentence. We continue to have the same concerns we have always expressed for victims of domestic violence. Shirley Slay was a wholly innocent victim who, until her brutal and premeditated murder, did everything possible to protect herself from the years of abuse by Robert Gattis. We respect that this was a weighty decision for the Governor after much review and deliberation.”