DOVER, Del. — A Delaware judge is weighing whether to grant a sentence reduction for a killer who was ordered back to prison after Delaware’s Supreme Court reversed a judge’s ruling that had freed her.
Following a hearing Tuesday, the judge gave attorneys two weeks to submit letters on whether they think he has any discretion to deny a sentence reduction for Catherine Culp if he finds that the request was made with good cause, and that she does not present a risk to the public.
The application for a sentence reduction was submitted after both the Department of Correction and Board of Parole determined that Culp’s model behavior as an inmate justified her early release.
Culp, 58, was initially sentenced to life in prison for the 1998 shooting death of her boyfriend, Lee Hicks. Following a retrial, she was convicted of second-degree murder and sentenced in 2001 to 25 years in prison. Her current release date, with good time credit, is March 2019.
“The lady that sits before the court today is not the lady who committed this crime,” defense attorney William Deely told Superior Court Judge Noel Primos. “…. She’s an entirely different person.”
Deputy attorney general Dennis Kelleher argued that Culp’s original sentence was appropriate and should stand. He also noted that Culp has maintained that Hicks’ death was an accident while the evidence suggests otherwise, and that she has given conflicting and contradictory statements about what happened.
“It was a completely unprovoked attack that resulted in a man’s death,” Kelleher said.
Culp, who appeared in court in a purple jumpsuit and leg shackles, did not speak.
Culp was freed on probation for about nine months in 2016 after Superior Court Judge Robert Young, who attended Tuesday’s hearing, concluded that her model conduct and extensive rehabilitation efforts met the standard under court rules for “extraordinary circumstances” justifying a sentence modification. The ruling resulted in her being released on probation.
Delaware’s Supreme Court reversed Young’s ruling, saying court rules barred him from considering a second motion for sentence reduction by Culp after a similar motion had been denied in 2003. The justices also noted that participation in educational and rehabilitative programs does not, in and of itself, constitute “extraordinary circumstances.”
The Supreme Court also noted in 2016 that, unlike the pending motion, the Department of Correction had not filed an application on Culp’s behalf with the Board of Parole. Under Delaware’s criminal code, a judge can modify a sentence based on an application by the DOC “for good cause shown which certifies that the release of the defendant shall not constitute a substantial risk to the community or the defendant’s own self.”
Deely noted that the DOC’s recommendation for Culp’s sentence reduction was unanimous.
“Ms. Culp has done more than any other client I’ve ever had, or ever seen, while she was incarcerated,” he said.
In reducing Culp’s sentence in 2016, Young cited a host of her achievements behind bars, including earning an associate’s degree, teaching classes, tutoring inmates and training other tutors. He also noted that Culp had earned a computer operator certificate and had completed courses in Spanish, culinary arts, women’s health, public speaking, dancing and floral design.
Kelleher, the prosecutor, said Tuesday that while Culp’s achievements in prison were “admirable” they did not necessarily warrant a sentence reduction.
“That’s what you’re supposed to do in prison,” he said.