Connecticut Rules Death Penalty Unconstitutional

Photo: David Graves/REX USA.
On Thursday, Connecticut removed all 11 men from the state's death row. Why? Because death row no longer exists there.

"It is apparent that capital punishment no longer serves any meaningful deterrent function in Connecticut," wrote Connecticut Supreme Court Justice Richard Palmer for the majority in the 4-3 decision. This shift comes after a successful vote by Connecticut's legislature in 2012 to abolish capital punishment for future crimes, a law that did not apply to the inmates who were already awaiting execution at the time.

"This state's death penalty no longer comports with contemporary standards of decency and no longer serves any legitimate penological purpose. For these reasons, execution of those offenders who committed capital felonies prior to April 25, 2012, would violate the state constitutional prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment," Palmer stated.

The decision comes after a two-year review incited by an appeal from a death row inmate named Eduardo Santiago. The prisoner was sentenced to a possible lethal injection in 2000 for committing a murder-for-hire crime. His attorneys argued that executing Santiago after the 2012 discontinuation of the death penalty sentence for future crimes would amount to cruel and unusual punishment.

While civil rights advocates are applauding the move, the landmark decision has been met with mixed emotions from some connected to the former death row inmates. Steven Hayes and Joshua Komisarjevsky, two of the men whose lives will be spared, received life sentences in 2007: Together, they committed a home invasion robbery, at which time they also raped and strangled Jennifer Petit, tied her two daughters to their beds, and set the house on fire, killing all three.

"I really do think that cruel and unusual crimes really do deserve cruel and unusual punishment," Petit's sister, Cynthia Hawke Renn, told NBC News. "For people who commit such heinous and horrific crimes — when you torture and rape them and their children, douse them with gasoline and burn them alive — is there not something that should be worse? Shouldn't there be a worse punishment out there for someone who takes a life in such a cruel and unusual way?"

The last capital punishment execution carried out in the state of Connecticut was that of Michael Ross, a serial killer who admitted to claiming the lives of eight victims. At the time, Ross was first person to be executed in Connecticut — and all of New England — since 1960.

Following yesterday's decision, Connecticut joins Alaska, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Dakota, Rhode Island, Vermont,West Virginia, Wisconsin, District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and U.S. Virgin Islands — all U.S. territories that have banned the death penalty.
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