Sen. McLachlan: We’ve “got to clarify” CT’s death penalty law (CT Post)

January 6, 2016

Supreme Court will rehear death-penalty arguments
By Ken Dixon

Connecticut Post

On the 16th anniversary of the murder of a 9-year-old Bridgeport boy and his mother on orders from drug kingpin Russell Peeler Jr., state prosecutors on Thursday will attempt to persuade the Connecticut Supreme Court to overturn last year’s decision that extended the repeal of capital punishment to those already on Death Row.

States attorneys will offer new reasons to a seven-judge Supreme Court panel on why the repeal of the state’s death penalty should not apply to Peeler and, by extension, the other 10 men on Death Row in the Northern Correctional Institution in Somers.

While the high court narrowly ruled last summer that the Death Row inmates are exempt from the death penalty, state prosecutors will argue that the General Assembly did not mean the 2012 repeal of the death penalty to apply to those already sentenced to die.

“The judgment in this case must be reversed with respect to the imposition of a sentence of death and the case must be remanded with direction to impose a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of release,” said a brief, filed by Assistant Public Defender Mark Rademacher and Lisa Steele, a private attorney, for Peeler, who will not attend the hearing, which will take place at 10 a.m. in the historic Supreme Court chamber on Capitol Avenue.

The makeup of the court has changed since last August, when Associate Justice Richard Palmer led a 4-member majority in declaring that executing the Death Row inmates after the statewide repeal would amount to cruel and unusual punishment for the state’s most-dangerous murderers.

Associate Justice Flemming L. Norcott Jr., who sided with Palmer, has since retired and has been replaced by Associate Justice Richard A. Robinson who prosecutors hope is more-conservative on the death penalty. Conversely, the re-argument of the death-penalty repeal could put Chief Justice Chase T. Rogers in a position to now switch to Palmer’s side, to protect the court’s precedent-setting decision last August.

Edward J. Gavin, a Bridgeport attorney who is a past president of the Connecticut Criminal Defense Lawyers Association and an opponent of the death penalty, said Wednesday that the case has attracted the attention of the state’s entire legal community.

“The argument tomorrow is a round-about attempt to influence the previous decision and prior rulings,” Gavin said in a phone interview. “People in the abolition world, we’re all nervous that the Supreme Court could reverse itself.”

Although Peeler’s brother Adrian Peeler, killed B.J. Brown and his mother, Karen Clarke, on Jan. 7, 1999, Russell received the death penalty for ordering the killings. Adrian Peeler is serving a 25-year sentence. The boy had been expected to testify against Russell Peeler in an unrelated shooting case.

Police found Clarke lying face up on the floor of her son’s room, a telephone a few inches from an outstretched hand. The boy was dead in the hall, a bullet to the back of his head. The case became national news.

Since last August’s decision, the 11 men on Death Row have remained there, pending resentencing hearings in stateSuperior Court.

At the time of the legislative debates on the repeal in 2012, state lawmakers on both sides of the aisle stressed that it would not include those on Death Row.

Earlier this week, Sen. Michael A. McLachlan, R-Danbury, a member of theJudiciary Committee, said the General Assembly should revisit the issue to pass additional laws to make sure that Peeler and the other Death Row eventually face the executioner.

“The legislature and the governor had no intention of sparing the lives of Connecticut’s most heinous and depraved murderers who were already on death row,” McLachlan said. “The intent was to assure that those who were sentenced to death under the Connecticut death penalty law for crimes committed prior to April 2012 would be put to death in accordance with the law in existence at the time they committed their crimes. We’ve got to clarify that in Connecticut law.”