Capitol Connection: Securing Justice for Victims

April 29, 2014

While Connecticut has thousands of laws and regulations, I am always amazed to hear about situations where current laws offer little protection to those in need. Over the years, working in both law enforcement and lawmaking, I have come to realize that sometimes it takes a troubling story about real people to identify what is missing from our current state laws.

One of these instances is the David Messenger murder case, which raises many concerns about Connecticut’s victim protection laws. The Messenger story begs one very important and unsettling question in particular: how can a person kill another, and then benefit financially from their death?

In 1998, David Messenger beat his pregnant wife Heather to death in front of their 5-year-old son in their Chaplin home. He was acquitted in 2001 by reason of mental disease or defect and was committed to a psychiatric facility for 20 years.

While he remains committed, he has received freedoms over the years to leave the facility on occasion. And, when he leaves the facility, he has access to significant funds inherited from his wife’s death. Since he was not convicted of the crime, Messenger was able to inherit over $2 million as the sole beneficiary of his wife’s estate. Not only does he inherit her estate, he also inherits the money from the settlement for her wrongful death.

Messenger gets full access to this money, but his and Heather’s son, now in college, receives no inheritance. David Messenger has made a profit from the murder of his wife, and her family can do nothing to stop this.

The law makes this situation perfectly legal, and the only way to change this is to change the law.

This year, state lawmakers are trying to do just that. Senate Bill 261, if approved by the legislature, would close the loophole that allows David Messenger to receive the inheritance from his victim.

The bill would make two important changes to Connecticut law.

First, it would prohibit a person who murders someone and is found not guilty by reason of mental disease or defect from benefiting from the estate of their victim or from their victim’s life insurance policy or annuity. So, if a person murders another, the not guilty by reason of mental disease ruling would no longer make a victim’s inheritance available to their murderer.

Second, the legislation would prevent people who commit second degree manslaughter from benefiting from the inheritance of their victim. Currently Connecticut has a list of crimes that, if committed, the perpetrator cannot collect funds from their victim’s estate. This bill would add the crimes of manslaughter in the second degree and manslaughter in the second degree with a firearm to this list of crimes.

When I first heard about this legislation, I was shocked that current law allowed Messenger to profit from his crime and that the surviving child was left penniless. I am happy to see efforts to change the law, and I look forward to voting in support of this bill. Protecting murder victims and their families and preventing perpetrators from benefiting from their heinous crimes is common sense – and the law needs to reflect this understanding of justice.