The Death Penalty

December 5, 2010

The death penalty debate is far from over in Connecticut and, considering the gravity of the issue, I am not certain that we as a society should ever stop considering the arguments for and against legally killing even the most depraved convicted criminals.

However, while I believe in the value of periodically reviewing and debating the laws and issues that are most important to all of us, I want to go on record again as supporting the state’s death penalty law. In 2009, I voted against legislation to abolish the death penalty in Connecticut – and was relieved when Governor M. Jodi Rell vetoed the bill.

It is quite possible that the General Assembly will take up the issue again as Governor-elect Dannel Malloy has expressed his opposition to the death penalty. If the Governor-elect’s position leads to a new proposal to abolish Connecticut’s death penalty, I will look forward to participating in a spirited debate on the floor of the State Senate. But, in the end, I will vote against abolishing the death penalty and I fervently hope that any attempt to pass such a law will fail.

In my opinion, Governor Rell made an excellent argument in favor of our capital punishment law when explaining her veto of the 2009 legislation. In her veto message, she wrote: “As I have stated previously, I understand and sympathize with the anguish and pain of those families who have lost a loved one due to a cruel and heinous crime. These are crimes forever embedded in our minds, haunting us long after they have been committed. They cause us to lose our innocence relative to the world around us. The death penalty is, and ought to be, reserved for those who have committed crimes that are revolting to our humanity and civilized society.”

Keep in mind that killing someone in Connecticut does not automatically expose someone to even the possibility of capital punishment. Certain conditions clearly spelled out in state law must be met before someone can be charged with a capital felony such as: murdering someone on the job in law enforcement, or a related field; murdering for, or hiring someone to murder for, pay; murdering in the commission of a felony; murdering while sentenced to life imprisonment; murdering the victim of a kidnapping he, or she, committed; murdering while committing first degree sexual assault; murdering two or more people at the same time; murdering someone younger than 16; or murdering someone after having been previously convicted of intentional murder, or murder during the commission of a felony.

Furthermore, even being convicted of these crimes does not automatically lead to a death sentence. Once someone is found guilty of a capital felony, the judge or jury must weigh mitigating and aggravating factors during a separate hearing to determine whether the defendant is sentenced to death or life in prison without the possibility of parole. Aggravating factors, including that the offense was committed in an especially heinous, cruel or depraved manner, are spelled out in law. Mitigating factors concern the defendant’s character, background or history, or the nature and circumstances of the crime. Our capital felony law spells out five conditions under which the death penalty cannot be imposed, including being younger than 18 at the time of the crime, or being mentally retarded at the time of the crime. Finally, any sentence of death is subject to automatic appeal.

In Connecticut, the death penalty is imposed rarely and carried out even more rarely. When convicted serial killer Michael Ross was executed in 2005 it was the first death sentence carried out in Connecticut since 1960. No one has been executed here since, and the crimes committed by some of the nine people currently on Connecticut’s death row date back to the 1980s.

It is not surprising that capital punishment is very much on the minds of Connecticut citizens right now. A jury just found that Steven Hayes should be sentenced to death for his involvement in the horrific Cheshire home invasion that left a mother and her daughters dead. The other man charged, Joshua Komisarjevsky, will be tried next year. As that trial gets underway, law abiding citizens will debate the pros and cons of capital punishment in their living rooms and, possibly, at the State Capitol. With that in mind, I wanted to take this opportunity to explain my position on this extremely important issue.

I believe that society has the right to legally put to death those who kill in a particularly cruel and heinous manner. I believe that such a law must be clear, fair and include safeguards. While I would consider proposals intended to improve our state law, I would oppose proposals to abolish it. As always I welcome the opportunity to speak with you regarding the important issues facing our state. I can be reached at my legislative office at 1-800-8423-1421, or via e-mail. I look forward to hearing from you.