[Deathpenalty] [SPAM] death penalty news----USA, OHIO, FLA., CONN.
rhalperi at smu.edu
Wed Apr 4 23:13:59 CDT 2012
US losing faith in death penalty
A battle of conscience is under way in America after recently released figures
showed there had been a dramatic fall in the number of death sentences.
Courts in the United States condemned fewer people to death last year than at
any time in the country's modern history.
It has prompted debate about whether America is falling out of love with the
ultimate punishment for criminals.
Only 4 countries executed more people than the US did last year - China, Saudi
Arabia, Iran and Iraq - but fewer than 100 new death sentences were handed
down, a fact welcomed by campaigners.
Clive Stafford-Smith, the British lawyer who founded the charity Reprieve and
has represented hundreds of death row inmates, said: "Finally Americans are
seeing through the lie that the death penalty is somehow going to solve the
country's serious crime problems.
"But it is a slow old battle and too many people will die before ultimately the
US comes to the inevitable conclusion that the death penalty is a waste of
everybody's time and resources."
4 states have abolished the death penalty in the last five years and at least 2
others are considering similar moves.
Factors including cost - it is more expensive to keep prisoners on death row -
the prospect of miscarriages of justice and the option of "life without parole"
seem to be turning authorities away from the death penalty.
The cost of keeping inmates on death row has been a factor as authorities turn
away from the ultimate punishment.
But a member of the US Congress has told Sky News the country is right to
retain the death penalty for the most serious of offences.
Trey Gowdy, who sought the death penalty in cases he tried as a prosecutor,
said: "When you bludgeon an elderly couple to death with a hammer while they're
asleep in the middle of the night for no reason whatsoever, what is the
Opinion polls suggest that Americans are evenly divided over the rights and
wrongs of the death penalty but the numbers are shifting towards abolition.
More than a 1/3 of all executions in the US since the death penalty was
reinstated in 1976 have been carried out in Texas.
The small city of Gatesville is home to 5 of the state's eight women-only
prisons and consequently locals have more interest than most in the rights and
wrongs of the death penalty.
Landscaper David Bullard told Sky News: "I love everybody and I want to be the
nicest person in the world, but I also know that if someone kills your children
or kills your wife those people need to be dealt with."
But his wife Alexia disagrees - highlighting how capital punishment remains an
issue that divides.
She said: "In the past so many times we have found out that people are innocent
who have been on death row for years and years. For us to put somebody to death
we are just as bad as they are."
It is a measure of the level of debate in Texas that even a singer who was the
state's official musician in 2010 now feels able to speak out against the death
Sara Hickman told Sky News: "It is that slogan, 'Why do you kill people to show
that killing people is wrong?'. It doesn't serve a purpose, it just causes more
pain for more people and it is inhumane."
Despite the fall in death sentences handed down, more than 3,200 people remain
on death row in the United States.
(source: Sky News)
GUANTANAMO----Pentagon approves 9/11 death penalty tribunal
Khalid Sheik Mohammed and 4 other detainees in Guantánamo Bay will soon be
presented with charges, then face a joint trial before a military commission on
allegations they orchestrated the worst terror attack in U.S. history.
The Pentagon on Wednesday cleared the way for a death penalty trial against
five Guantánamo Bay captives charged with engineering the Sept. 11 attacks.
Retired Vice Adm. Bruce MacDonald, in charge of military commissions, signed
off on the capital trial against alleged mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammed, 46,
and 4 accused co-conspirators.
The men face charges of terrorism, hijacking aircraft, conspiracy and murder in
violation of the law of war, among other charges, in the system set up by
President George W. Bush within months of the attack, and then reformed by
President Barack Obama in 2009.
If convicted, they could be sentenced to death using a method to be decided by
Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, or his successor.
The charges accuse the 5 men of organizing the attacks, including funding and
training the 19 men who hijacked the 4 commercial airliners on Sept. 11, 2001,
and then crashed them into the World Trade Center, Pentagon and a field in
Shanksville, Pa., killing 2,976 people.
The lead trial attorneys are retired Army Col. Robert Swann and federal
prosecutor Edward Ryan — the same 2 men who were designated to prosecute the
case by the Bush administration.
Obama halted the previous trial and Attorney General Eric Holder was initially
determined to prosecute them in Manhattan, not far from the site of the World
Trade Center. But he reversed course a year ago after politicians protested,
alternately, that a federal prosecution would put an even large al Qaida
bull’s-eye on New York City, would snarl traffic for security concerns or would
risk acquittal if a civilian judge or jury concluded that the evidence against
them was the fruit of torture.
Pentagon prosecutors have been preparing their case since then.
At the White House, spokesman Jay Carney said the decision to go forward with
the trial at Guantanamo did not diminish Obama's desire to close the detention
“There have obviously been obstacles in achieving that. But he remains
committed to doing that,” said Carney. “In the meantime, we have to ensure that
Khalid Sheik Mohammad and others who are accused of these heinous crimes are
brought to justice. And a procedure is now underway to ensure that that
The decision drew a rebuke from the American Civil Liberties Union, which has
funded some of the 9/11 defense lawyers.
The Obama Administration “is making a terrible mistake by prosecuting the most
important terrorism trials of our time in a 2nd-tier system of justice,” said
Anthony Romero, the ACLU executive director. He said the war court was “set up
to achieve easy convictions and hide the reality of torture, not to provide a
“Whatever verdict comes out of the Guantánamo military commissions will be
tainted by an unfair process and the politics that wrongly pulled these cases
from federal courts, which have safely and successfully handled hundreds of
All 5 men were interrogated by the CIA in secret overseas prisons — Mohammed
was waterboarded 183 times, according to declassified CIA documents — before
their 2006 transfer to Guantánamo for trial. Once in Cuba, he bragged to a
panel of U.S. military officers that he was responsible for the Sept. 11
attacks “from A to Z.”
The chief prosecutor, Army Brig. Gen. Mark Martins, has said that by law no
evidence derived through torture can be used at a Guantánamo trial. MacDonald
signed the 123-page charge sheet alleging the 5 men engaged in a years-long
conspiracy that trained the 9/11 hijackers in Afghanistan and Pakistan, funded
them in wire transfers from Persian Gulf nations and dispatched some of them to
the United States from Germany. It will be up to an 11-member team of U.S.
prosecutors to prove it to a military jury of a dozen or more members.
But first, the military has to present the charges at the remote prison at the
U.S. base in southeast Cuba, assign a judge to the case and give them a formal
appearance at the war court compound, Camp Justice, probably in May. Months of
pre-trial challenges, including wrangling over defense resources and whether
the men are competent to defend themselves, are likely to follow.
The other 4 men facing the death penalty charges in the joint trial are Walid
bin Attash, 33, a Yemeni; Ramzi Bin al Shibh, 39, a Yemeni; Mustafa al Hawsawi,
43, a Saudi; and Ali Abdul Aziz Ali, 34, a Pakistani who is Mohammed’s nephew
and also known as Ammar al Baluchi.
The Pentagon’s war court witness advocate, Karen Loftus, sent an email to Sept.
11 families on Wednesday advising them of the case development. Some survivors
and victims of the 9/11 attacks will be invited to watch the proceedings at
Guantánamo, selected through a lottery. Most will be directed to remote viewing
sites being set up in Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey and Maryland that
will show closed-circuit broadcasts of the proceedings.
The broadcasts are on a 40-second delay in case someone in court divulges
classified information, time enough for an intelligence center to muffle the
proceedings behind white noise.
Loftus also described the military jury that will hear the Sept. 11 mass murder
trial as “a panel of at least 12 members, whose function is analogous to jurors
in a federal or state court. The case was also referred to as a joint trial,
meaning that all 5 of the accused will be tried together, unless the military
judge later determines that any or all of the accused should be tried
A Pentagon-paid defense lawyer for Ali, accused of wiring money to the 9/11
hijackers, has argued his client should not face a capital trial because he
isn’t alleged to have killed anyone – or plotted to kill.
“Mr. Ali would not be eligible for the death penalty if this case were tried in
federal court,” said attorney James Connell. “This attempt to expand the reach
of the death penalty to people who neither killed nor planned to kill is
another example of the second-class justice of the military commissions.”
Martins has assigned himself to the 11-lawyer prosecution team, which includes
Justice Department lawyers Joanna Baltes, Jeffrey Groharing and Clayton Trivett
as deputy trial counsels to Ryan and Swann. Trivett, a lieutenant commander in
the Navy Reserves, and Groharing, a lieutenant colonel in the Marines, had also
worked on the 9/11 prosecution during the Bush years.
(source: Miami Herald)
Khalid Sheik Mohammed, alleged 9/11 mastermind, to get new trial
A senior Pentagon official on Wednesday authorized a new trial for Khalid Sheik
Mohammed and 4 others accused of orchestrating the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, a
step that restarts the most momentous terrorism case likely to be held at
Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
The suspects were 1st charged in a military commission in 2008, but the case
was suspended after the Obama administration came into office and later moved
to have them tried in federal court in New York.
That effort collapsed in the face of congressional and local opposition. In
April 2011, Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. announced that he was
reluctantly sending the case back to the military.
Military charges against the 5 men were re-sworn in June. And on Wednesday,
retired Vice Adm. Bruce MacDonald, the official who oversees the commissions
and is known as the convening authority, sent the case for trial after
reviewing and approving those charges.
They include murder in violation of the law of war, attacking civilians,
attacking civilian objects, hijacking aircraft and terrorism. If convicted, the
men could face the death penalty.
Charged along with Mohammed are Ali Abdul Aziz Ali, a Pakistani who is
Mohammed’s nephew; Ramzi Binalshibh and Walid bin Attash, both Yemenis; and
Mustafa al-Hawsawi, a Saudi. All are accused of playing key organizational or
financial roles in the attacks on New York and the Pentagon, a plot that
Mohammed has said he masterminded.
In the previous case, Mohammed, Ali and Attash won the right to represent
themselves with advisory military and civilian counsel. A judge was considering
whether Binalshibh and Hawsawi were competent to make that choice when the case
An arraignment will be held at the military prison at Guantanamo Bay next
month, and all of the pretrial issues that surfaced in the earlier case will
have to be litigated again, including the issue of self-representation and the
mental health and capacity of Binalshibh and Hawsawi.
Each of the defendants is entitled to a military attorney and “learned
counsel,” a lawyer with experience in death penalty cases.
At one point in the last case, the defendants said they were interested in
pleading guilty to capital charges because they wanted to be executed and die
as martyrs. Next month’s arraignment should make clear whether Mohammed wants
to fight the charges or is still interested in pleading guilty.
The other defendants have tended to follow his lead.
All 5 men were held in secret CIA custody at prisons overseas before they were
transferred to Guantanamo in September 2006. Their treatment at the hands of
the CIA, including the extensive waterboarding of Mohammed, is likely to be an
issue at trial.
Under the reformed system of military commissions, prosecutors cannot use as
evidence any statement that resulted from torture or cruel, inhumane or
degrading treatment. Attorneys for the men are nonetheless likely to make their
treatment central to any defense against the death penalty.
Some civil libertarians remain deeply skeptical of the system.
“The military commissions were set up to achieve easy convictions and hide the
reality of torture, not to provide a fair trial,” said Anthony D. Romero,
executive director of the ACLU. “Although the rules have been improved, the
military commissions continue to violate due process by allowing the use of
hearsay and coerced or secret evidence.”
But military officials said the commissions, which were overhauled in 2009 by
Congress, offer defendants due process. They also said the use of hearsay or
coerced evidence is strictly limited to certain circumstances on the
battlefield and is not a back door for tainted evidence.
“If observers withhold judgment for a time, the system they see will prove
itself deserving of public confidence,” Brig. Gen. Mark Martins, the chief
military prosecutor at Guantanamo Bay, said in a speech this week at Harvard
(source: Washington Post)
Ohio can resume executions, federal judge rules
Ohio's 1st execution in 6 months can proceed, a federal judge ruled today,
saying it appears the state is serious about following its own lethal injection
The decision by U.S. District Judge Gregory Frost ends an unofficial moratorium
dating to November, when members of the Ohio execution team deviated from the
official injection procedures when putting a Cleveland man to death.
The changes were minor — failing to properly check a box on a medical form, for
example — but they angered Frost, who had previously criticized the state for
failing to follow its rules.
The judge's decision followed a seven-day trial over the state's lethal
injection process last month.
The ruling paves the way for the April 18 execution of Mark Wiles for stabbing
a 15-year-old boy to death during a farmhouse burglary.
Frost said today he is "admittedly skeptical" about Ohio's ability to carry the
execution out properly, but said he's ruling in favor of the state, while
warning officials to get it right.
"They must recognize the consequences that will ensue if they fail to succeed
in conducting a constitutionally sound execution of Wiles," Frost wrote.
A message was left with Wiles' attorney today.
In July, Frost scolded the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction for
what he called haphazard and embarrassing deviations to its own rules. In
response, Ohio rewrote its policies and said it would follow them in the
future. With those changes in place, Frost allowed the execution of Reginald
Brooks in November for killing his 3 sons in 1982.
Following that execution, Frost again said the state hadn't followed its rules.
He criticized Ohio for switching the official whose job it is to announce the
start and finish times of the lethal injection and failing to properly document
that the inmate's medical chart was reviewed.
Ohio argued the changes were minor deviations that didn't affect the state's
ability to properly execute inmates.
The way Ohio puts inmates to death has been under scrutiny since 2009, when
executioners tried unsuccessfully for nearly two hours to insert a needle into
the veins of Romell Broom, sentenced to die for raping and killing a
14-year-old Cleveland girl. Then-Gov. Ted Strickland, a Democrat, eventually
called the execution off, and Broom remains on death row, arguing in court
filings that Ohio shouldn't be allowed a second try at executing him.
Frost has never found Ohio's execution process unconstitutional, meaning the
delays have been based on technical questions about lethal injection.
Wiles, 49, had been out of prison on a previous aggravated robbery for less
than a year on Aug. 7, 1985, when he killed 15-year-old Mark Klima, a
straight-A student who wanted to be a doctor, in a Portage County farmhouse,
according to Ohio Parole Board records.
Mark Klima, the son of Wiles' employers, was found by 2 girls who were staying
at the farm, according to the parole board. The knife in his back had been used
to cut a birthday cake the day before.
A report by the parole board also said Wiles had suffered a head injury in a
bar 12 days before the slaying, and a doctor testified that tests indicate he
may have an injury to part of the brain that regulates impulse control. Another
doctor agreed that Wiles has a brain injury and said he also has a substance
abuse problem and personality disorder.
The parole board ruled unanimously March 23 against mercy for Wiles, saying he
exploited the family's kindness and his remorse didn't outweigh the brutality
of the crime.
Wiles' defense team had argued he should be spared because he confessed to the
crime, has shown extreme remorse and regret and has a good prison record.
Gov. John Kasich has the final say on mercy for Wiles.
(source: Associated Press)
Ex-Death Row Inmate From Scotland Makes Plea Deal
A Scotsman released from prison 4 years ago after spending 2 decades on Ohio's
death row has agreed to a plea deal over accusations that he threatened a judge
who prosecuted his original case.
Ken Richey agreed to enter a guilty plea to a felony charge next week and will
face no more than 3 years in prison, Todd Schroeder, an assistant prosecutor in
Putnam County, said Wednesday.
Richey pleaded not guilty in January to charges that he left a threatening
telephone message for the judge in the northwest Ohio county. Authorities said
he called the courthouse on New Year's Eve from his new home in Tupelo, Miss.,
warning the judge that he was coming to get him.
He is slated to change his plea next week. Schreoder didn't reveal the charge
because he said it's possible a change could be made. A message seeking comment
was left with Richey's attorney.
Richey was on death row for 21 years after being convicted of setting a fire
that killed a 2-year-old girl in 1986. He denied any involvement and became
well-known in Britain, where there is no death penalty, as he fought for his
release. Among his supporters were several members of the British Parliament
and Pope John Paul II.
Following years of appeals, a federal court determined his lawyers mishandled
the case, and his conviction was overturned. County prosecutors initially
planned to retry him, but Richey was released in 2008 under a deal that
required him to plead no contest to attempted involuntary manslaughter. He also
was ordered to stay away from the northwest Ohio county and anyone involved in
Richey, though, carried a lifetime of bitterness over his conviction and
couldn't stay out of trouble once outside of prison.
He returned to Scotland in 2008, but just over a year later, he was accused of
breaking into an apartment and beating a man with a metal pipe. Those charges
were later dropped when a witness failed to back the man's story.
Richey returned to the U.S. and was arrested in Minnesota in 2010. He was
charged with assault after his 24-year-old son told police his father grew
angry, smacked him with a baseball bat and threatened to kill him after the
pair had been wrestling. Prosecutors in Ohio said Richey was still wanted on a
warrant out of Minnesota.
(source: ABC News)
Supreme Court justices hear, but don't rule on, 1983 Vero Beach murder case
The state Supreme Court, which heard arguments Wednesday to stay the April 12
execution of convicted murderer David Alan Gore, didn't rule on the issue, but
at least one seemed to hint that they weren't inclined to rule in Gore's favor.
Gore, 58, is under a death warrant Gov. Rick Scott signed Feb. 28 for the July
16, 1983, 1st-degree murder of Lynn Elliott, 17, of Vero Beach. He was
sentenced to death but later was granted a new sentencing hearing. In that
proceeding, a jury voted unanimously to recommend a death sentence and the
trial court again condemned him to death.
Defense attorney Martin J. McClain of Wilton Manors, argued to the justices
Wednesday that Gore's attorney at the resentencing failed to sufficiently argue
that Gore had received ineffective counsel at his original trial.
McClain based his argument on the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling this year in the
Martinez vs. Ryan case, which he said found that a defendant has to have an
effective attorney in the appeal process to show ineffective counsel at trial.
McClain said the case "affects not just Mr. Gore and not just inmates on death
row" but the constitutional rights of defendants in all appeal cases in the
The justices seemed concerned that a never-ending string of charges of
ineffective counsel could result. Justice Barbara J. Pariente said the Martinez
ruling could create "a nightmare" in the federal court system.
Assistant State Attorney General Celia Terenzio said the Martinez case "has
changed absolutely nothing" in the state courts, and Pariente seemed to agree.
She suggested Gore might find relief in a federal court, "but I don't see how
(the Martinez ruling) applies to change procedures in Florida."
The justices didn't hear oral arguments on other aspects of Gore's appeal,
including that Scott was unfairly influenced to sign the death warrant after
meeting in January with the Scripps Treasure Coast Newspapers' editorial review
board and that the execution, on top of the 28 years Gore has spent on death
row, would constitute cruel and unusual punishment.
Gore also is serving several life prison terms after pleading guilty to killing
5 other women in Indian River County. His cousin and co-defendant, Fred
Waterfield, is serving life in prison for his role in the crimes.
(source: TC Palm)
Family Massacre Survivor William Petit Opposes Repeal of CT Death Penalty
Connecticut state senators are expected to vote on a controversial death
penalty repeal bill today, with family members of murder victims at odds about
whether the bill should move forward or not.
The proposed bill would replace the death penalty with a sentence of life
without parole. It would abolish the death penalty for future cases, but would
not affect sentences for the 11 inmate's currently on death row in the state.
One of the strongest voices against repealing the death penalty has been Dr.
William Petit Jr., the lone survivor of a 2007 Cheshire home invasion that
resulted in the brutal murders of his wife and 2 daughters. The 2 men convicted
of the crime, Joshua Komisarjevsky and Steven Hayes, are currently on death
Republican minority Leader John McKinney joined with other lawmakers, Petit and
the family members of other murder victims to denounce the repeal bill at a
"We believe in the death penalty because we believe it is really the only true
just punishment for certain heinous and depraved murders,'' Petit said.
Senate Democrats also gathered this morning in Connecticut to unveil an
amendment to a bill that requires harsher sentences for those convicted of
"murder with special circumstances."
Majority leader Martin Looney, New Haven-D, and Donald Williams, Brooklyn-D,
said inmates in this tougher program would face conditions similar to those of
current death row inmates.
"There is no such thing as closure when your loved one is savagely taken from
you," Petit -- along with his sister Johanna Petit Chapman -- wrote in a
statement to the New Haven Register in March. "There can, however, be adequate
and just punishment and that is the death penalty."
Family members of other murder victims have united to support the repeal. About
100 relatives of victims signed a letter of support for abolishing the death
"The death penalty, rather than preventing violence, only perpetuates it and
inflicts further pain on survivors," the letter reads. "The reality of the
death penalty is that is drags out the legal process for decades. In
Connecticut, the death penalty is a false promise that goes unfulfilled,
leaving victims' families frustrated and angry after years of fighting the
The letter argues that the money spent on the "broken system" could be better
used supporting victims' services.
"At a moment none of us could have predicted or prepared for, tragedy robbed us
from children, parents, spouses, brothers and sisters, and other family
members," the letter says. "Our direct experiences with the criminal justice
system and struggling with grief have led us to all the same conclusion:
Connecticut's death penalty fails victims' families."
In the past 40 years, Connecticut has executed one person. In 2005, serial
killer Michael Ross, 45, was executed for killing four Connecticut women in the
Democrats have said they are optimistic the bill will pass, but Minority Leader
John McKinney has expressed doubts. If the bill does make it past the state's
House of Republicans, Democratic Gov. Dannel Malloy has said in the past that
he would sign and abolish the death penalty.
If Connecticut abolishes the death penalty, they would join New Jersey, New
Mexico and Illinois as states that have done so in the past few years.
(source: ABC News)
Connecticut lawmakers to vote on death penalty
Lawmakers in Connecticut are grappling with a bill that would do away with the
death penalty and make their state the fifth in five years to abolish capital
The bill is thought to enjoy majority support in each chamber of the state
legislature, which are both Democrat-controlled, and would replace death
penalty sentences with life imprisonment.
Gov. Dannel Malloy, a Democrat, has vowed to sign the measure into law should
it reach his desk, his office said.
State senators could vote as early as Wednesday, though officials say they
expect the debate to drag on well into the evening hours and could possibly
surface for a vote on Thursday.
If passed, the bill would go to the state House next week where lawmakers are
overwhelmingly expected to vote in its favor.
"For everyone, it's a vote of conscience," said Senate President Donald
Williams Jr., a Democrat who says he's long supported a repeal. "We have a
majority of legislators in Connecticut in favor of this so that the energies of
our criminal justice system can be focused in a more appropriate manner."
In 2009, state lawmakers in both houses tried to pass a similar bill, but were
ultimately blocked by then-Gov. Jodi Rell, a Republican.
16 states have abolished capital punishment, with California voters expected to
take up the measure in November.
Capital punishment has existed in Connecticut since its colonial days. But the
state was forced to review its death penalty laws beginning in 1972 when a
Supreme Court decision required greater consistency in its application. A
moratorium was then imposed until a 1976 court decision upheld the
constitutionality of capital punishment.
Since then, Connecticut juries have handed down 15 death sentences. Of those,
only 1 person has actually been executed, according to the Death Penalty
Information Center, a nonpartisan group that studies death penalty laws.
Michael Ross, a convicted serial killer, was put to death by lethal injection
in 2005 after giving up his appeals.
"It's not a question of whether it's morally wrong, it's just that it isn't
working," said Richard Dieter, the group's executive director. "I think when
you hear of 15 to 20 years of uncertain appeals, that's not closure and that's
not justice. It's a slow, grinding process."
11 people are currently on death row in Connecticut, including Steven Hayes and
Joshua Komisarjevsky, who both were sentenced for their roles in the 2007
murders of the Petit family in Cheshire, Connecticut.
The high-profile case drew national attention and sparked conversations about
home security and capital punishment.
Dr. William Petit, the sole survivor in that attack, has remained a staunch
critic of repeal efforts.
"We believe in the death penalty because we believe it is really the only true,
just punishment for certain heinous and depraved murders," Petit told CNN
Advocates of the existing law say capital punishment can act as a criminal
deterrent and provides justice for victims.
Opponents say capital punishment is often applied inconsistently, can be
discriminatory and has not proven to be an effective deterrent. They also point
to instances in which wrongful convictions have been overturned with new
investigative methods, including forensic testing.
"Mistakes can be made and you may not know about it until science later exposes
them," said Dieter.
But a recent Quinnipiac poll found that 62% of Connecticut residents think
abolishing the death penalty is "a bad idea."
"No doubt the gruesome Cheshire murders still affect public opinion regarding
convicts on death row," said Quinnipiac University Poll Director Douglas
That number jumps to 66% among Connecticut men, and drops to 58% among the
state's women, according to the poll.
The Senate's proposed law is prospective in nature, meaning that it would not
apply to those already sentenced to death.
Senate poised to repeal death penalty
The Senate late Wednesday was on the verge of approving a bill that would
abolish the death penalty and put the state's worst murderers in prison for
life without the possibility of release.
The bill, expected to pass narrowly without unanimous support among majority
Democrats, was drafted by Democratic leaders to assure that it would not apply
to the 11 men awaiting execution.
Those sentenced under the "special circumstances" law in the future would live
in segregated, secure conditions away from the general prison population,
similar to the current death row in the Northern Correctional Institution in
"In my mind it's providing an alternative to the death penalty," said Sen.
Carlo Leone, D-Stamford, who voted in favor of the legislation in a partisan
21-14 vote on the overall amendment late Wednesday afternoon. "The fact that
they would not become a celebrity, the fact that families would not have to
relive the event over and over through the appeal process, I believe does have
Republicans warned that the repeal would immediately result in appeals from the
condemned inmates attempting to have their sentences commuted by state courts.
"We know -- and this is not a fact in dispute -- that if the repeal of our
death penalty becomes law and when it becomes law there will be an appeal filed
on behalf of at least one or, as a group, all death row inmates, challenging
their execution under our state Constitution now that we've repealed it," said
Senate Minority Leader John McKinney, R-Fairfield. "What I think we can also
agree upon is that none of us can predict with any accuracy what the court is
going to do."
Sen. L. Scott Frantz, R-Greenwich, said that the death penalty looms as a huge
issue that may never be reviewed again if it's abolished.
"This guarantees a certain legislative outcome," he said of a GOP amendment
offered in the mid-evening that would bar death row inmates from appeals based
on the repeal of capital punishment.
Last year the legislation failed in the Senate amid lobbying by Dr. William
Petit of Cheshire, whose wife and two daughters were killed in a 2007 home
invasion. Their two killers are now on death row.
While Petit again journeyed to the Capitol on Wednesday, some Democrats who
last year were opposed to the repeal, were expected to change their votes in
the Senate, which is controlled by Democrats 22-14.
The follow-up vote in the House, where Democrats have a 99-52 majority, is
expected to be easier when the bill reaches the floor next week for debate.
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy has said he would sign the legislation, making
Connecticut the 17th state, plus the District of Columbia, to repeal capital
punishment. In 2009, the last time the repeal passed the House and Senate, it
was vetoed by then-Gov. M. Jodi Rell.
After the Senate test vote, McKinney immediately moved for the legislation to
be referred to the Finance Committee, which would at least temporarily
sidetrack the bill.
Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman, who presides over the Senate, overruled the request.
Wyman last week promised to support the repeal if a tie vote occurred in the
It was early drama in what was anticipated to be an evening-long conversation
on the controversial repeal. Twenty Republican amendments were filed in attempt
to lure away Democratic support from the underlying bill.
Sen. John Kissel, R-Enfield, whose district includes 6 prison facilities,
offered the first GOP amendment, which would assure that future "special
circumstances" inmates stay segregated in conditions sparser than those in the
Sen. Michael A. McLachlan, R-Danbury, supported Kissel's proposal.
"This is unfortunately one of those cases where I'm afraid that the underlying
bill is going to pass," McLachlan said. "We need to find a way to make a bad
"I like my amendment just fine," replied Sen. Eric D. Coleman, D-Bloomfield,
just before the vote on the first Republican amendment, which failed 21-14.
McKinney immediately offered the second Republican amendment.
Earlier in the day, Democrats in the Senate revised the bill to attract more
votes for repeal. Republicans and several supporters of capital punishment
charged that the fate of the 11 killers on death row is at stake.
Proponents of the repeal, however, stressed that the legislation is
"prospective" for future capital felonies and would not spare the condemned
Indeed, it was the only way that veteran Sen. Edith G. Prague, D-Columbia, who
opposed the bill last year, would support the legislation this year.
During a midmorning news conference, majority Democrats announced a
"game-changing" rewrite of the death penalty repeal bill that would assure
those on death row -- and those future murderers convicted under so-called
special circumstances -- would stay segregated from other inmates for as long
as they live.
They would be kept in conditions similar to today's death row, where those
facing eventual execution are escorted everywhere, housed away from the general
population and confined to their cells for 22 hours a day.
Democrats led by Senate President Pro Tempore Donald E. Williams Jr. and
Coleman, co-chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said the new bill took into
consideration a proposal from Kissel, the Judiciary Committee's ranking member,
that failed during the committee debate on the legislation.
When informed of this in a GOP news conference that immediately followed,
Kissel said he still favors the death penalty.
"It's great when the opposition party wants to take one of our ideas and take
it to heart, but it doesn't change my position on the death penalty," Kissel
"Our concern was that these diabolical individuals should not be in the general
population. What I think is the real problem here and I'll be succinct, is this
notion of prospective repeal. It's political expediency," Kissel said. "Be
honest. If you're going to take the high and mighty road and say this is a
moral issue, then let's be honest, get your votes together and do an outright
repeal. But don't misguide the victims' families and loved ones, don't misguide
the people of Connecticut and say it's prospective because that is a ruse and
that is disingenuous to the good people of the state of Connecticut."
Petit, an endocrinologist who was beaten but survived the 2007 triple murder
and who has emerged in recent years as the state's major supporter of capital
punishment, told reporters that he believes Democrats have been keeping him
away from swing votes including Prague. "The senators in question have not been
readily available," Petit said.
Williams, the Senate's top Democrat, said that the current death-penalty law is
applied indiscriminately and only occasionally.
"We believe this is a historic day in the state Senate," said Senate Majority
Leader Martin M. Looney.
Coleman said that laws in Connecticut dating back to 1846 have applied
prospectively, so he is sure that those on death row would still face eventual
Leo C. Arnone, commissioner of the Department of Correction, said the bill
would allow him to set up the new segregated program at other prisons and save
money for the state.
"This is not administrative segregation," said Arnone, stressing that the
legislation would mirror death row's conditions.
Appeals on death-penalty cases routinely take 20 to 30 years. Serial killer
Michael Ross abandoned his appeals in 2005 and received a lethal injection.
Prior to that, the last execution was in 1960.
The Cheshire home invasion slayings were viewed as creating a hostile
environment for repealing the law. Last month, a Quinnipiac University poll
showed 62 % of Connecticut residents do not support repealing the death
(source: Connecticut Post)
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