January 17, 2012 / 7:25 PM / 8 years ago

Delaware governor spares life of murderer

Robert Gattis is seen in an undated prison photo. REUTERS/Delaware Department of Correction/Handout

(Reuters) - Delaware Governor Jack Markell spared the life of convicted murderer Robert Gattis on Tuesday, commuting his death sentence for killing a former girlfriend to life in prison in line with the recommendation of the state’s Board of Pardons.

Markell, in acting on the 4-1 recommendation of the Board of Pardons, became the first Delaware governor to commute the sentence of a Death Row inmate, gubernatorial spokeswoman Cathy Rossi said. Gattis will serve life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Gattis, 50, was convicted of killing his former girlfriend Shirley Slay after he shot her during an argument at her apartment in 1990, according to the www.robertgattisclemency.com website.

He was convicted of murder, burglary and possession of a weapon in September 1992, and in October of the same year was sentenced to die for his crimes. He had been due to be executed by lethal injection on Friday.

“While I have supported the imposition of the death penalty in the past and I consider Mr. Gattis’s crimes to be heinous, I am not prepared to move forward with the imposition of the sentence in this case,” Markell said in a statement.

The Board of Pardon’s move, on which Markell said he acted, marked the first time the board had recommended clemency since the death sentence was reinstated in Delaware in 1974.

Gattis’s lawyers praised the governor’s decision as “morally courageous and historic.”

Reporting by Barbara Goldberg and Michelle Nichols; Editing by Daniel Trotta and Cynthia Johnston

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