Connecticut’s highest court deems death penalty unconstitutional

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CONNECTICUT — Connecticut’s Supreme Court declared the death penalty unconstitutional Thursday, sparing the lives of 11 convicts who were on death row when the state abolished capital punishment in 2012.

The inmates whose lives will be spared include Joshua Komisarjevsky and Steven Hayes, who were convicted of killing a woman and her two daughters in a 2007 home invasion in Cheshire, Connecticut.

In 2012, Gov. Dannel Malloy signed a bill into law that abolished the death penalty, making the state the 17th in the nation to abandon capital punishment and the fifth in five years to usher in a repeal. But inmates already on death row when the law passed could still be executed.

Thursday’s decision stems from the appeal of a defendant whose lawyers argued that executions carried out after the state abolished the death penalty would represent cruel and unusual punishment. That inmate, Eduardo Santiago, faced the death penalty after being convicted of a murder in West Hartford in 2000.

Connecticut’s highest court voted 4-3 to overturn the death penalty.

“In prospectively abolishing the death penalty, the legislature did not simply express the will of the people that 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,” the Supreme Court ruling said.

Thursday’s ruling said the 2012 law “held a mirror up to Connecticut’s long, troubled history with capital punishment: the steady replacement by more progressive forms of punishment; the increasing inability to achieve legitimate penological purposes; the freakishness with which the sentence of death is imposed; the rarity with which it is carried out; and the racial, ethnic, and socio-economic biases that likely are inherent in any discretionary death penalty system.”

The decision said since such a system “fails to comport with our abiding freedom from cruel and unusual punishment, we hold that capital punishment, as currently applied, violates the constitution of Connecticut.”

In a statement Thursday, Malloy said the state has executed two inmates in the last 54 years. Both volunteered to be executed.

“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, a former prosecutor who’s opposed to the death penalty.

“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 families members,” he said in the statement. “My thoughts and prayers are with them during what must be a difficult day.”

Hayes and Komisarjevsky were convicted and sentenced to death in a sensational case involving the killing of a mother and her daughters.

The two men entered the Petit family home, beat and tied up William Petit and forced Jennifer Hawke-Petit to go to a bank and withdraw $15,000.They then raped and strangled Hawke-Petit, 48, and molested 11-year-old Michaela before tying her and 17-year-old Hayley to their beds and setting the house afire.

The girls died from smoke inhalation. Their father managed to escape from the basement.

The appeal leading to Thursday’s decision involved a case in which Santiago agreed to kill another man in 2000 in exchange for a snowmobile. Santiago’s lawyers appealed the death sentence on grounds the the law abolishing capital punishment created “an impermissible and arbitrary distinction between individuals who committed murders before and after April 25, 2012.”

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