Sen. Boucher Courant op-ed:

August 19, 2015

“We believe in the death penalty because we believe it is really the only true, just punishment for certain heinous and depraved murders.” — Dr. William Petit

Three years ago, I joined with Republican legislators, Dr. Petit and other crime victims to point out that the repeal of Connecticut’s death penalty would provide mercy to killers who offered none to their victims.

Repeal, we noted, would eliminate a powerful tool for society to mete out justice to the worst of the worst.

We predicted that repeal would spare the lives of the 11 murderers sitting on Death Row. I voted against repeal, but the legislation passed on a close vote.

Three days ago, our prediction came true.

Four members of the Connecticut Supreme Court chose to step way out of line. They wrongfully took on the role of policy-makers and revealed themselves to be activist justices.

Len Fasano, the Republican leader in the state Senate, noted that if the court rejected the death penalty repeal legislation based on an argument that the law violated equal protection by creating a separate class of citizens, the remedy should rightly be to strike that legislation down. Striking that law down would leave Connecticut with the death penalty intact per previous law.

But that didn’t happen.

Instead, the four justices chose to act as state legislators and expand the death penalty repeal beyond what was approved by the Connecticut General Assembly.
In her dissenting opinion, Justice Carmen Espinosa crystallized the actions of the four majority justices. She wrote, “This court has overstepped its constitutional obligations and allowed personal interpretations … to overshadow the law as defined and enacted by the people.”

“The people” are emphasized by Justice Espinosa, and rightly so.

As a state senator, I represent 100,000 people and try my best to be their voice. My constituents were clearly against repeal.

In the death penalty repeal debate, I noted that law enforcement and correction officers had told me that their lives would be much more endangered without capital punishment. For those officers, the death penalty is a very powerful deterrent and a valuable tool in bringing criminals to justice.

I related how a law enforcement officer with 32 years of experience told me, “I’ve studied serial killers. When caught, they will reveal additional kills that they have committed and locations of where bodies are in order to bargain away from the death penalty.” This officer was deeply concerned about losing that leverage.

When the debate concluded, Republicans and Democrats were all on the same page on one issue: Whatever the final vote tally might be on the bill, the new law would not affect inmates already condemned to die.

Martin Looney, the Democrats’ leader in the state Senate, was quite clear, saying, “I don’t think there is anything in the legislative history of the law that would indicate anything other than our intention that the repeal be entirely prospective.”

Former Democratic state Sen. Edith Prague commented, “I couldn’t live with myself if repeal got [Joshua] Komisarjevsky and [Steven] Hayes to win an appeal to have their death penalties reversed.”

Even our state’s top elected official made his intent known.

“What I’ve said is any legislation that I would sign would be prospective, it would be out into the future,” Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said. “I’ve guaranteed that it would be drafted in such a way as to guarantee that these two individuals [Komisarjevsky and Hayes] — if we ever had a workable death penalty — would be put to death, if that’s the sentence of the jury.”

Well, that “guarantee” has now been upended. The lives of Connecticut’s most heinous and depraved murderers have been spared.

Had lawmakers foreseen this past week’s activist ruling, the legislation repealing the death penalty would likely have lacked the support needed to pass in the first place.

How heartbreaking for so many victims’ families across our state. They remain in our thoughts and prayers as we try to make sense out of this decision, futile as that attempt may be.

State Sen. Toni Boucher serves on the legislature’s judiciary committee. She represents the 26th District.