The Delaware Board of Pardons announced Sunday that they will grant mercy and recommend to Gov. Jack Markell that Robert A. Gattis' death sentence be commuted to life in prison without parole.


The Delaware Board of Pardons announced Sunday that they will grant mercy and recommend to Gov. Jack Markell that Robert A. Gattis' death sentence be commuted to life in prison without parole.

Gattis, 49, who was sentenced to death 20 years ago for shooting his former girlfriend Shirley Slay, is scheduled to be executed Friday, Jan. 20.

With a 4-1 vote, the Board recommends that Gattis live out the rest of his natural life in prison with the condition that he forever drop all legal challenges to his conviction and sentence as commuted and that he waive any right to present a future commution or pardon request.

The Board, which includes Chancellor Leo Strine Jr., Secretary of State Jeffrey Bullock, State Auditor Tom Wagner, State Treasurer Chip Flowers and Lt. Gov. Matt Denn, issued the following statement Sunday:

"The crimes committed by Mr. Gattis were horrific and we find no fault in how this case was handled by the prosecutors and judges involved," a statement from the Board read. "We also believe that the family of the victim has good reasons to argue that the sentence of death should be imposed. ...

"The board weighed heavily that Mr. Gattis did not come forward with the full extent of his sexual abuse until 2009 despite having used elements of a child abuse defense 20 years earlier. In considering the full record, we accept that if even half of what has been submitted about Mr. Gattis's childhood is true, he was victimized physically, emotionally and sexually by family members who owed him a duty of care."

The four board members who voted for commutation stated that the jury's non-unanimous verdict played a factor in their decision.

"In the Gattis case, two jurors who heard the trial in its entirety 20 years ago, both of whom were prepared to impose the death penalty if appropriate, would not do so," read the statement.

The board also said Gattis does not present a threat of future harm to society.

"We also take into account the reality that Mr. Gattis is not an unusually problematic prisoner, although he is far from a model one," he said. "Within the structured setting of a prison, one thing emerges indisputably from the record: Mr. Gattis does not pose a threat of violence within the prison setting and is not regarded as dangerous by the Department of Correction."

Gattis' attorneys, John Deckers and Karl Schwartz, released a statement that they are "gratified" with the Board's recommendation.

"We respectfully urge the governor to follow the Board's recommendation which is now joined with the many prominent voices including legislators, former judges and prosecutors, domestic violence organizations, clergy, mental health profesionals, members of the bar and concerned citizens, all of whom have called on the governor to show mercy and spare Mr. Gattis' life," the attorneys stated.

Markell will be called on to make a final decision this week.

Catherine Rossi, communications director for the governor, said she is unsure when Markell will issue his decision, but she did say he is currently reviewing the case.

"He will take time to fully review all the materials in the petition and rationale for the Board's recommendation," Rossi said.

 

Previously reported

 

As convicted killer Robert A. Gattis approaches his execution scheduled for later this month, defense attorneys pled with the Delaware Board of Pardons Monday to show mercy and recommend that Gov. Jack Markell commute Gattis’ death sentence to life in prison without parole.dd

More than 50 people gathered inside the tight confines of a Vaughn Correctional Center meeting room in Smyrna to hear testimonies from the defense and advocates for Gattis’ clemency as well as the Attorney General’s Office and their witnesses.

Gattis, 49, was sentenced to death for the 1990 murder of his former girlfriend, 27-year-old Shirley Slay.

The Board of Pardons hearing comes after 20 years of state and federal court appeals. According to testimony, Gattis shot Slay between the eyes at close range on May 9, 1990 in her New Castle apartment. The day she was killed, Slay told those close to her she planned to end her six-year tumultuous relationship with Gattis.

Earlier in the night, Gattis confronted Slay, became enraged and beat her before fleeing. She called police, who told him directly to have no further contact with her. He returned that night, however, with a shotgun and shot Slay between the eyes at close range.

Gattis is scheduled to be executed by lethal injection Jan. 20.

Defense Attorneys John Deckers and Karl Schwartz argued Monday that clemency should be granted much in part due to the brutal physical and sexual abuse Gattis suffered as a child at the hands of his father and stepfather. The attorneys maintain that evidence of this abuse was never heard by the jury that recommended the death sentence or the judge who imposed it.

“The jury didn’t know that children who were exposed to this kind of physical and sexual abuse have difficulty maintaining intimate, trusting relationships or coping with emotions, stress and anxiety well into adulthood,” Deckers said. “This is not an excuse, but it is an explanation.”

Gattis’ attorneys also argued that their client showed complete remorse for his actions and has since rehabilitated himself.

Chancellor Leo Strine Jr., a member of the Board of Pardons, questioned Gattis and his attorneys profusely about whether the shooting was an accident, which Gattis insisted at trial.

“It was no accident,” Gattis told Board members Monday.

“I’ve tried to change, to be a better man than the man I was when I shot Shirley,” Gattis said as he addressed the board. “I pulled the trigger. I can’t take that back. I can’t change what I did, but I can try to change myself.”

Among Gattis’ family who spoke in support of clemency were his sister, Wanda Lee, and his two sons, Marcus and Robert.

“He’s there to listen,” his son, Robert, said. “He never said he was upset or angry at us. Something that he always told us that stuck with me was ‘We share the same name, but we don’t have to share the same mistakes.”

While there were many in attendance to offer their support for Gattis and to show their objection to the death penalty, others were there to urge the Board of Pardons to let the death sentence stand.

Among those in attendance were Shirley Slay’s family and friends, who also addressed the board.

Shirley’s brother, Walter, said his sister was his best friend and that she could “light up the world with her smile.”

“Me and you went at it a lot about my sister,” Walter told Gattis. “She loved you and love’s not supposed to hurt … I pray every day that maybe one day I can forgive you but that day is not today.”

Shirley’s mother, also named Shirley, spoke about the impact her daughter’s death had on the family, especially on the late Shirley’s daughter, who was only 11 years old when Shirley was killed.

“Her mother wasn’t there for her 16th birthday,” Shirley said. “She wasn’t there for her Christmases or for her graduation.”

Tragedy struck the Slay family again, Shirley’s mother said, when her grand-daughter was killed in an auto accident a few years later.

Shirley’s family asked the Board of Pardons to “do the right thing.”

“This has got to stop,” Shirley said. “Twenty years has to be long enough to wait for some closure in our lives.”

Under state law, Markell cannot commute Gattis’ sentence without a recommendation to do so from a majority of the five-person board, which is made up of elected and appointed officials. Other members include Secretary of State Jeffrey Bullock, State Auditor Tom Wagner, State Treasurer Chip Flowers and Lt. Gov. Matt Denn, who serves as the board’s chairman.

A decision will be made later this week and submitted to the governor in writing, said Denn.