Apr 3, 2009

Judiciary Committee Pushes To Abolish Death Penalty in Connecticut

Late Tuesday afternoon, the Connecticut Judiciary Committee voted on whether or not to support a bill that would abolish the death penalty in our state. The largely democratic committee voted 24-13 in favor of supporting this bill. The house, along with the Senate will now decide whether or not the state of Connecticut replaces Capital punishment with a sentence of life imprisonment with no parole in its stead.

A major issue cropping up within this whole discussion has been the lengthy appeals process, which is currently mandatory with all state D.P cases. Legislators claim that the appeals process is too costly and time consumptive, and thus their reasoning follows, if we take the death penalty off the table, the state will save a lot of money.

Besides being completely inappropriate, this kind of reasoning, whereby money is the main consideration rather than the tremendous moral and social issues involved, is also inaccurate and very misleading; Within these discussions no one seems to be factoring in the many costs involved in the periphery of such decisions. One such example would be the money spent on the prosecution and often -state-financed defense of the violent crimes that will surely be a result of abolishment. It's only common sense that criminals are afraid of the prospect of being put to death much more than they are of being relegated to prison for "life" no matter how far in their future that death sentence looms.

An example of these aforementioned hidden costs is apparent within the Petit family murders: These July 2007 murders have been languishing in our courts for nearly two years with no sign of a trial in sight. Ironically enough, the state of Connecticut is absorbing the cost of both prosecution and defense of the two defendants accused of these murders, as well as a year and a half of special guards to protect them from the prison population and the general public (The latter during their court appearances) Not to mention 16 months of 24 hr guards for a suicide watch on one of the two defendants who is already in solitary confinement for his "own protection"

Add to this the cost of housing, food, medical/ dental care (same defendant is reportedly on daily anti-anxiety medication and pain killers) And the total sum becomes astronomical.
Our legislators have never mentioned, nor perhaps even considered these costs but they have many times over cited the costs involved with the prosecutors decision to pursue capital punishment in the case, oft times pointing out how much money would be saved if the state would pursue life with no parole instead.

As is often the situation with death penalty cases both defendant's attorneys have stated public ally that the state could avoid a lengthy and costly trial and the subsequent appeal process if they hadn't so stubbornly insisted on the death penalty for this case. They hint that they would be amenable to pleading guilty without a trial, saving the state millions and the victims family years of drawn out criminal process.... if only the state dropped the death penalty from the table.

The problem with this type of reasoning, (besides the fact that it is succumbing to what amounts to emotional and financial blackmail,) is this: If the death penalty were indeed no longer a consideration, then life with no parole would be the most severe sentence for any capital crime and thus any attorney worth his salt is automatically going to push for the next less severe sentence for his/her client - In this case that would be life with a chance of parole.

And since so many of the legislators and anti-DP activists are prone to pointing out the emotional hardships that the Death penalty causes the family of crime victims -( via having to live thru years of appeals and the repeated testimony and details of the crimes committed against their loved ones,) they should think about the inevitable fact that many of these same murder cases will result in life with possibility of parole, thereby sentencing the victims family to a lifetime of fighting against parole every few years for the criminal that killed their loved one.
The expression 'give an inch take a mile'comes to mind.

If you'll recall, the state cut both of the Petit murderers loose from their already more- than- liberal prison sentences, just prior to their committing the Petit family rapes and murders -Why.....? In order to save money.

Saving Money was behind the decision to parole the two repeat offenders with little to none of their criminal files on hand, and without seeing or speaking to the inmates themselves.
The prosecutors office had been refusing to pay for the copying costs involved with sending complete files for each criminal for many years and as such, besides the occasional futile complaint the parole board had been reluctantly "making do".albeit with some grumbling.
The consensus seems to be that had the Parole board been made privy to at least the court transcripts of one of the defendants sentencing hearings, that young man would have never been paroled. The Petit murders would never have happened.

The state put both men in halfway houses after less than a third of their sentences were served; In the end, a nine year sentence that was given by the judge presiding over Joshua komisarjevsky's cases became two and a half years actually served behind bars. Besides the glaring lack of judicial and commonsense involved - our state's money-saving efforts ultimately cost them millions and The Petit and Hawke families a life-time of grief and pain.
Surely all of these costs should be tallied into the overall equation by our Appropriations Committee as they consider the price tag of being "too tough on crime. "

The house and Senate will vote next on this bill, thanks to the Judiciary Committees Tuesday vote, which in effect brought the bill forward to the house. We must let our legislators know that we do not wish to live in a State where there is little to no deterrence for committing rape and murder. Many repeat offenders are non-plussed at the prospect of a "life sentence" - Many who commit, or would commit- capital crimes like murder have been in and out of prison their entire lives. They are not likely to think twice about taking a life if the worst that can happen - the worst - is life within the prison community.

And prison is just that, a community-of sorts. A veritable sub-culture existing mostly unseen and un pondered by the general public. It provides its inhabitants with such diversions as Cable TV, use of computers, and exercise and weight rooms. In some Connecticut Prisons, inmates may have Paid jobs that are provided by the prison which in turn provide pocket money, which can then be used to curry favors from willing C'Os, and to purchase illicit drugs, all of which as you might imagine, help make the incarceration experience that much more palatable.
Movies, gyms, paid work and in some cases, conjugal- visits. Yes, some inmates actually start families while they are in prison serving time for crimes like murder via such conjugal visits. Unlike their victims, whose lives were snuffed out cruelly, they can wed, sire children and visit with their children and the rest of their families. They can even earn degrees if they wish-- It 'helps to pass the time', according to some inmates.

The bottom line is that if this this becomes the worst fate that lies ahead for a would - be murderer, to use the typical antiseptic verbiage - the state of Connecticut will likely have an "influx of violent crime" In real life this translates into more people being brutalized, terrorized, raped and murdered. More family members grieving, more suffering with the Post trauma that comes from the personal knowledge of such violent ends. What all of this will equate to in human suffering is far beyond anything the members of the Connecticut Judiciary Committee ever contemplated.

We have also been hearing the tired lament that 'the state of Connecticut doesn't execute anyone anyway, so why not simply abolish the Death penalty?' In fact, Co-chairman of the Ct Judiciary committee Mike Lawlor( D East Haven) recently referred to the death penalty as"a fraud of public policy" during a talk with the media. He was no doubt referring to the fact that only two murderers in fifty years have actually been put to death here and one of them had to actually sue the state in order to get executed in a more timely fashion. His name Michael Ross, he was a serial rapist and killer of women and teenage girls.

Mr Ross apparently wished to be accountable for the many lives he had taken and the many others he had destroyed, this revelation came after hearing testimony from the family members of his many victims. Through Connecticut's absurd automatic appeals process and the last minute intervention of a local judge, Ross's execution was repeatedly delayed and de-railed until finally, 25 years after his crimes, he was put to death via lethal injection - a rather humane way to end a life comparatively.

If we do use Mr Lawlors logic regarding the Death Penalty being a "fraud of public policy" it should follow that we would get rid of most of the current Judicial system in Connecticut - clearly the parole board was a fraud of public policy for a good many years and yet that is still intact. (albeit with some changes after lax parole standards were exposed "post Cheshire." )

Why trials themselves could be considered a fraud of public policy considering about 97 percent of Connecticut's criminal cases are adjudicated via plea "deals" every year, meaning no trial . Our state prosecutors so rarely go to trial that the odds are stacked against them when they DO due to this inexperience. This of course only adds to the courthouse climate of avoiding a trial at all costs, even though it means settling with reduced and/or dropped charges against a defendant, not because he didn't commit the crimes, nor because the state hasn't adequate evidence, but rather because we'll save effort and money by offering that deal.

These deals not only leave the victims invalidated, they leave the criminal in question with an inaccurate criminal record that does not reflect how dangerous he is, never mind a much less severe sentence that perpetually compromise public safety.

Twelve inmates or so are currently on Connecticut's "death row", a true misnomer as within our current system it will be approximately twenty years before most are actually put to death, if they are not successful with one of their many appeals. While it is clear that the run amok appeals process needs to change, this does not translate to the need for getting rid of the entire system. Connecticut's prosecutors and Judges are clearly very discerning in seeking the Death Penalty, as well they should be, but part of the extremely serious decision of whether to pursue it in a capital murder case shouldn't include the assertion that its too costly and cumbersome, so why bother?

We need to do the more difficult thing and ameliorate the problems that have become inherent with the application of our state's death penalty system. Connecticut's chief prosecutor Kevin Kane feels strongly that this can be achieved. Our lawmakers must be utterly sensible and unflaggingly honest about the issues surrounding this issue. There is no place within this discussion for politics and yet the death penalty debate seems fraught with those trying to use it as a platform to further personal and partisan agendas.

A fair and sound appeals process helps keep our courts in check when such a serious sentence is involved, but when that appeals process is hijacked and threatens to swallow the very system it protects, then its time to re-vamp..

I hear so many people say .." in theory, I am against the death penalty... but in "this case" or
for "heinous crimes like this one, I believe it's only" just" or fair or"necessary". If we are truly honest as a people, we realize that this then means that we believe in the death penalty: To be certain, we believe in the need for its existence, the option to render it forth for just such crimes as the ones that lead us to make these moral exceptions.


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