Submitted: March 1, 2018
Kelleher, Esquire, DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE, Dover, Delaware,
/or the State.
William T. Deely, Esquire, OFFICE OF DEFENSE SERVICES, Dover,
Delaware, for the Defendant.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
EASON PRIMOS, J.
case presents an issue which is easily stated but difficult
to resolve: whether the Court should grant a plea of
leniency. The State of Delaware Board of Parole
(hereinafter the "Board"), upon application of the
Department of Correction (hereinafter the
"Department"), has recommended to this Court that
it reduce the sentence of Catherine W. Culp (hereinafter
"Ms. Culp"), who was convicted of the murder of Lee
Hicks (hereinafter "Mr. Hicks"). In reaching its
decision, the Court must contemplate a variety of
considerations, both practical-the extent of Ms. Culp's
rehabilitative efforts and whether she poses a danger to the
community; and esoteric-when does leniency serve the ends of
FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
approximately one o' clock in the morning on July 29,
1998, Ms. Culp frantically banged on the door of Corinthian
and Kimberly Cuffee. When Mr. Cuffee opened the door, Ms.
Culp told him "I need help ... he is hurt, I need
somebody to come call 911." They called the police, and
Ms. Culp described her involvement in Mr. Hicks's death:
"He told me to give him his gun, and I gave it to him.
And the gun went off and it shot him in the back."
Police arrived at the Cuffee residence and Ms. Culp directed
the officers to Mr. Hicks's home, just a few houses down
the street. Inside, police discovered Mr. Hicks lying dead in
his bed. Investigators later discovered that Mr. Hicks had
died from a single, close range, gunshot wound.
December of 1999, this Court convicted Ms. Culp of murder in
the first degree and possession of a firearm during the
commission of a felony. Ms. Culp appealed. The Supreme Court
of Delaware reversed the convictions on the basis of a breach
of the Delaware Rules of Evidence, and a new trial was held.
In July of 2001, Ms. Culp was again convicted, this time of
murder in the second degree and possession of a firearm
during the commission of a felony. She was sentenced
effective July 29, 1998, to 25 years in prison. For almost
eighteen years, beginning with her initial incarceration in
July 1998, Ms. Culp remained continuously incarcerated at
Delores J. Baylor Women's Correctional Institution
these years, Ms. Culp exhibited exemplary behavior and
commitment to rehabilitation. She achieved an Associates of
Applied Science Degree in Marketing, graduating with honors,
and completed courses qualifying herself to teach other
inmates on a variety of subjects, including G.E.D. classes,
Thresholds, and drug education classes. She served as an
educational tutor at WCI, completed numerous computer
courses, achieved a State of Delaware computer operator
certificate, and attained abilities in Spanish, culinary
arts, women's health, public speaking, dancing, and
April 18, 2016, this Court modified Ms. Culp's sentence,
citing her extraordinary rehabilitation. Ms. Culp was
released for time served and moved to Florida to reside with
her brother and sister, Douglas Wiggins and Angela Wiggins.
During this time, she complied with the requirements of her
probation in all respects. She obtained and held employment,
received a driver's license, saved enough money to
purchase her own car, and joined a church.
Culp's freedom was, however, short-lived. On December 8,
2016, the Supreme Court reversed this Court's decision to
modify her sentence, holding that the Superior Court is not
empowered to grant pleas for leniency sua sponte
based upon rehabilitative efforts, if they are filed more
than 90 days after sentencing. The Supreme Court indicated that
the Superior Court may only grant such a plea upon the
application of the Department, filed with the Board pursuant
to 11 Del. C. § 4217-as the Court has received
here. In so holding, the Supreme Court
emphasized the "important role" that Section 4217
assigns the Department and the Board in assuring
"community safety and public welfare in the evaluation
of claims of successful rehabilitation."
receiving this news, Ms. Culp voluntarily paid her way back
to Delaware and submitted herself to the custody of the
Department on January 5, 2017. Since returning to WCI, Ms.
Culp has continued to exhibit the indicia of substantial
18, 2017, the Department applied with the Board, pursuant to
Section 4217, to reduce Ms. Culp's sentence, stating that
"[w]e feel that [she] is not a danger to herself or the
community at this time. Ms. Culp demonstrated during her
reprieve that she is willing to be a productive part of her
community." On December 4, 2017, the Board submitted its
recommendation for sentence reduction to this Court,
reporting that the Department had shown good cause for
sentence reduction in that Ms. Culp was fully rehabilitated,
and that she would not pose a risk to anyone if released. The
Board voted four to one to modify Ms. Culp's sentence by
suspending the remainder of her Level V incarceration for two
years of Level III probation.
reduction of her sentence for "good time, " Ms.
Culp is set to be released on March 15, 2019.
ARGUMENTS OF PARTIES
previously indicated, the Department asserts that Ms.
Culp's release "into the community would not
constitute a substantial risk to the community or
[her]self." Further, Ms. Culp has "demonstrated
rehabilitation through appropriate program
Department interviewed Ms. Culp in connection with this
application. When asked about the cause of Mr. Hicks's
death, Ms. Culp said, "Mr. Hicks asked her to get his
gun from the dresser.... Ms. Culp stated that she never
handled a gun before. Her judgment was blurred due to the
amount of alcohol she consumed and she was playing with the
gun when it accidentally went off shooting Mr. Hicks."
The Department further probed Ms. Culp on the issue of
remorse, and she responded that "she knows that what
happened that night was entirely her fault" and that she
"feels for the loss Mr. Hicks's family had to endure
because of her actions." In the Department's view,
"Ms. Culp appears to be truly remorseful for what
happened to Mr. Hicks and his family."
hearing held with regard to this matter on February 13, 2018,
counsel for Ms. Culp emphasized her accomplishments and good
behavior, which have been recounted supra, and
argued that she was genuinely remorseful. Counsel attributed
Ms. Culp's continued insistence that the killing was
accidental to the fact that the traumatic experience and her
intoxication may impede her ability to recall precisely what
happened. Counsel conceded ...