Connecticut

Connecticut

STUDIES: Arbitrariness in Connecticut Death Sentences

A newly published study by Professor John Donohue of Stanford Law School found that arbitrary factors, including race and geography, significantly affected death sentencing decisions in Connecticut. While controlling for a variety of factors related to the severity of the crime, the study's abstract indicated that "[M]inority defendants who kill white victims are capitally charged at substantially higher rates than minority defendants who kill minorities, [and] that geography influences both capital charging and sentencing decisions . . . ." For example, the abstract noted, "Considering the most common type of death-eligible murder – a multiple victim homicide – a white on white murder of average egregiousness outside [the city of] Waterbury has a .57 percent chance of being sentenced to death, while a minority committing the identical crime on white victims in Waterbury would face a 91.2 percent likelihood." The second defendant is 160 times more likely to be sentenced to death than the first. The study concluded, "[I]n part because of the strong racial, geographic, and gender influences on capital outcomes in Connecticut, the state’s death penalty system has not been successful at limiting the death penalty within the class of death-eligible crimes to the worst of the worst offenders or establishing that there is a principled basis for distinguishing the few death-eligible defendants that will be sentenced to death in Connecticut from the many who will not."

EDITORIALS: Connecticut's The Day Calls for Retroactive Death Penalty Repeal

When Connecticut abolished the death penalty in 2012, it did so prospectively, leaving its death row population in place. Now, Connecticut newpaper The Day is calling on the state to "have the courage and consistency to outlaw government sanctioned killing in all instances." The editorial first highlights the paper's longstanding opposition to capital punishment, saying "It remains our position that a state-sponsored execution disproportionately targets minorities, has no deterrent value, cannot be undone if there is a mistake and is a barbaric act that lowers the state to the level of the killer." It then draws on recent events to point out the practical problems with Connecticut's execution method, lethal injection. "The Department of Correction has confirmed it has none of these drugs and no way to obtain them because many domestic and foreign drugmakers, including those in the 28-nation European Union, have objected to using their products in executions." The editorial closes by mentioning the ongoing court case challenging the consitutionality of Connecticut's current death penalty law, saying "The likelihood is that none of the 12 [men on death row] will ever be executed and some court, state or federal, will find, as Michael Courtney, the state's head of the Office of Public Defender, has said, "there is nothing more arbitrary and capricious" than the present situation in which a person committing a capital felony on April 24, 2012, the day before Connecticut abolished capital punishment, can be executed while the person committing the exact same crime the next day cannot." Read the full editorial below.

Connecticut Supreme Court Considers Executions After Death Penalty Repeal

On April 23, the Connecticut Supreme Court will consider whether the 11 inmates who remained on the state's row after the legislature voted to repeal the death penalty in 2012 can still be executed. Mark Rademacher, an attorney for one of the inmates, argued that the legislature’s repeal of the death penalty demonstrated the punishment is no longer necessary and, hence, executing his client would be cruel and unusual punishment. Rademacher also asserted that the law’s prospective nature violates the equal protection clause of the Constitution because it singles out a small group of defendants for the death penalty, while dictating a life sentence for defendants in similar situations. Brian Stull, of the American Civil Liberties Union's Capital Punishment Project, noted in his amicus brief that, "No state has executed a prisoner after repealing the death penalty. We just think it's so important for the court to know Connecticut would be the first state to, and that's not a stat any state wants to take." The state has argued it was the clear intent of the legislature to only have the law apply to future cases.

INTERNATIONAL: Roman Colosseum Lit to Mark Connecticut's Abolition of Death Penalty

On November 29, the Colosseum in Rome, Italy, was illuminated in honor of Connecticut's repeal of the death penalty in April of this year. The event featured former death row inmate Shujaa Graham of California and George Kain of the Connecticut Network to Abolish the Death Penalty. Five states in the past five years have abolished the death penalty: Connecticut, Illinois, New Mexico, New Jersey, and New York. The program also commemorated the 10th World Day of Cities Against the Death Penalty, sponsored by the Community of Sant’Egidio, a faith-based organization focusing on conflict resolution and interfaith dialoge. See a slide slow of pictures from participating cities at this link.

Connecticut Trial To Challenge Systemic Bias in Death Sentencing

Although Connecticut abolished the death penalty for future offenses in 2012, eleven inmates remained on death row.  Now an unusual trial will soon begin challenging the death sentences of seven of those inmates, not because of the legislature's repeal action, but because of evidence of racial and geographical biases in deciding those sentences. The inmates will principally rely on a study by Stanford University professor John Donohue, who reviewed nearly 4,700 murders in the state from 1973 to 2007. The study found that minority defendants whose victims were white were three times more likely to receive a death sentence than white defendants whose victims were white. Professor Donahue also found disparities along geographic lines.  For example, death penalty-eligible defendants in Waterbury, Connectiuct, were sentenced to death at much higher rates than similar defendants elsewhere in the state. The study concluded, “A comprehensive assessment of this process ... reveals a troubling picture. Overall, the state's record of handling death-eligible cases represents a chaotic and unsound criminal justice policy that serves neither deterrence nor retribution.”

NEW VOICES: Connecticut Supreme Court Justice Says Death Penalty 'Incompatible with Standards of Human Decency'

On May 29, the Connecticut Supreme Court overturned the death sentence of Eduardo Santiagoone of eleven men who remained on the state's death row despite the recent abolition of the death penalty for future crimes.  Justice Lubbie Harper, Jr., (pictured) agreed with the majority’s reasoning and conclusions about Santiago, but also came to the conclusion that the state's death penalty as applied to those still on death row is unconstitutional.  Justice Harper wrote, “It is clear to me both that capital punishment violates our state’s constitutional prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment and that this punishment is systematically plagued by an unacceptable risk of arbitrary and racially discriminatory imposition that undermines the fairness and integrity of Connecticut’s criminal justice system as a whole.” He concluded, “Upon review of both the objective evidence of prevailing norms of human decency, as well as other relevant social and legal factors, I cannot but conclude that capital punishment is incompatible with evolving standards of human decency in our society.”

COMMENTARY: Death Penalty Climate Changing

Commentary from nationally syndicated columnist E.J. Dionne (pictured) and the New York Times reflected on the changing state of the death penalty in the U.S. in light of recent developments. Dionne cited the repeal of the death penalty in Connecticut as an example of a "remarkable pivot in the politics of the death penalty, the premier issue on which an overwhelming consensus favoring what’s taken to be the conservative side has begun to crumble."  He observed that "significant groups of libertarian Republicans and opponents of abortion have crossed to the repeal side." In an editorial titled "The Myth of Deterrence," the New York Times noted that "a distinguished committee of scholars working for the National Research Council has now reached the striking and convincing conclusion that all of the research about deterrence and the death penalty done in the past generation . . . should be ignored."  The Times concluded that other states should follow Connecticut’s lead in repealing the death penalty.  Read full texts below.

RECENT LEGISLATION: Governor's Signature Makes Connecticut Fifth State in Five Years to End Death Penalty

On April 25, Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy (pictured) signed into law a bill that replaces the death penalty with life without parole.  Connecticut is the fifth state in five years, and the 17th overall, to do away with capital punishment.  Governor Malloy, who once supported the death penalty, offered the following statement: “My position on the appropriateness of the death penalty in our criminal justice system evolved over a long period of time. As a young man, I was a death penalty supporter. Then I spent years as a prosecutor and pursued dangerous felons in court, including murderers. In the trenches of a criminal courtroom, I learned firsthand that our system of justice is very imperfect. While it’s a good system designed with the highest ideals of our democratic society in mind, like most of human experience, it is subject to the fallibility of those who participate in it. I saw people who were poorly served by their counsel. I saw people wrongly accused or mistakenly identified. I saw discrimination. In bearing witness to those things, I came to believe that doing away with the death penalty was the only way to ensure it would not be unfairly imposed."  See more of the governor's statement below.

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