By TAYLOR HARTZ
In an Aug. 13 ruling, the Connecticut Supreme Court declared capital punishment unconstitutional, claiming that the punishment no longer fits ethical standards in the state.
The 4-3 decision in the case of State of Connecticut v. Eduardo Santiago ruled that the 11 men currently serving on death row in the state will not be executed.
Capital punishment was outlawed in Conn., on April 25, 2012, but the abolition applied to all those convicted of crimes committed on or after the date of the ruling.
In the recent ruling Justice Richard N. Palmer, who issued the majority decision, stated that “it would be unconstitutionally cruel and unusual to execute offenders who committed capital crimes before that date.”
“It no longer makes sense to maintain the costly and unsatisfying charade of a capital punishment scheme in which no one ever receives the ultimate punishment,” said Palmer.
In the last 50 years, only one death row inmate has been executed in the state.
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy (D-Conn.,) released a statement on Aug. 13, supporting the court’s decision on capital punishment. The governor, who opposes the death penalty, said he formed his opinion carefully after years working in the criminal justice system.
“Many on death row are able to take advantage of endless appeals that cost the taxpayers millions of dollars, and give those convicted killers an undeserved platform for public attention,” said Malloy.
“Those currently serving on death row will serve the rest of their life in a Department of Corrections facility with no possibility of ever obtaining freedom.”
State Rep. Rob Sampson (R-Conn.) spoke against the repeal on the floor of the House of Representatives in 2012. Since the repeal, Sampson has sponsored a bill each year to reverse it and said he will continue to do so.
The representative spoke out against the court’s decision, calling the ruling “a travesty of justice.”
Sampson, a self-proclaimed “limited government Republican” said he questions why the legislature had the right to nullify jury decisions for the convicted criminals, and why the court had the right to overrule the legislature by changing the terms of the repeal.
“We have 11 basically guaranteed guilty convicts on death row in Connecticut,” said Sampson, who made reference to the recent escape of two convicts from Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora, New York, “Every day that those sentences aren’t carried out, those folks present a risk to our state.”
Two of the 11 inmates currently on death row in the state are Steven Hayes and Joshua Komisarjevsky, both convicted of murder in the 2007 Cheshire home invasion. The two men have been serving on death row since 2010 and 2012, when they were sentenced to death for the murders of Jennifer Hawke-Petit, and daughters Hayley, 17, and Michaela, 11.
“The only reason they were able to pass that death penalty, was because of the prospective nature of the appeal,” said Sampson, who thinks many state residents felt strongly that Hayes and Komisarjevsky should still be executed.
“At the time Cheshire was still fresh in people’s minds,” said Sampson, “and there were many people that would not have supported the appeal unless the Cheshire murderers would still be on the receiving end of the actual death penalty sentence.”
Dr. William Petit, the surviving family member of the home invasion, reacted to the decision in a statement issued shortly after the ruling. Petit supported opinions of the three dissenting justices, stating that the majority ruling “disregarded keystones of our governmental structure.”
“The death penalty and its application is a highly charged topic with profound emotional impact, particularly on the victims and their loved ones,” said Petit.
Petit said that Justice Carmen E. Espinosa’s dissent “forcefully and compassionately recognizes that devastating impact.”
“Because of today’s decision, the families of the victims of these vicious crimes will never have the opportunity to have their voices heard on the subject of whether the punishment of death does not comport with contemporary standards of decency,” said Espinosa.
Espinosa joined Chief Justice Chase T. Rogers and Justice Peter T. Zarella in dissenting the 4-3 decision.
“Today is a somber day where our focus should not be on the 11 men sitting on death row, but with their victims and those surviving family members,” said Malloy.