Good thinking, Connecticut!
- With home invaders/multiple murderers/ rapists/sadists Stephen Hayes and Joshua Komisarjevsky duly convicted and sentenced to death by lethal injection, the state legislature passed, and the Governor signed, a law making Connecticut the latest state to ban the death penalty.
- Since a majority of the public, the legislators and virtually everyone aware of the horrendous facts of the infamous home invasion murders that Hayes and Komisarjevsky unquestionably committed think these two creatures deserve to die, the legislators made the law prospective only, meaning that it only would apply to those convicted of future crimes.
- Despite the legislative intent, the obvious Equal Protection challenge to a law that treats two sets of citizens—current convicted murderers and future ones—differently may save the lives of Hayes and Komisarjevsky, the other 9 residents of the state’s death row, and such likely future residents as Richard S. Roszkowski, convicted of murder for gunning down a man, woman and 9-year-old girl on Sept. 7, 2006, but still facing a second death penalty phase trial, after his first one was overturned on a technicality.
It would have shown integrity for Connecticut lawmakers to have the courage of its supposed convictions, and to abolish the death penalty while having in its custody as perfect candidates for capital punishment as have ever been captured, Stephen Hayes and Joshua Komisarjevsky. In case you have forgotten the details of their June 23, 2007 invasion of the Cheshire, Conn. home of the Petit family, or were lucky enough to miss that horror story until now, here are is a mercifully brief summary.
Planning to rob the home of the Petit family, the two broke into their house and found William Petit sleeping on a couch on the porch. Komisarjevsky bludgeoned him with a baseball bat and tied him up, leaving him bleeding and semi-conscious in the basement. The two men locked his wife, Jennifer, and their daughters, Hayley, 17, and Micheala, 11, in their bedrooms, as the invaders gathered money and valuables. Then Hayes forced Jennifer, at gunpoint, to withdraw $15,000 from the family’s bank account. After they returned from the bank, Komisarjevsky raped Michaela, the 11-year-old, and Hayes to raped her mother. William Petit managed to escape the basement while this was happening, and crawled to a neighbor’s house to get help. Hayes strangled Mrs. Petit, poured gasoline on her corpse, around the house, and over both daughters, who were tied to their beds. Then Hayes and Komisarjevsky set everything aflame. 17-year-old Hayley and 11-year-old Michaela died from smoke inhalation before they could burn to death.
If legislators and Connecticut Governor Malloy really believe that the death penalty is morally wrong, then they must believe it is morally wrong to execute Hayes and Komisarjevsky, and should be willing to make their ban apply to them as well. The fact is that the overwhelming majority of voters want to see these two monsters executed, as well they should. The procedural arguments against the death penalty don’t apply to these men: there is no question about their guilt, and racial bias was not involved, for both men are white. If capital punishment is wrong, then it is wrong, and the ban should apply to everyone. If it is appropriate in extreme cases like Hayes and Komisarjevsky, then it should not be banned. Banning it prospectively but not retroactively, however, is incoherent, cowardly, and quite possibly deceptive. It seems concievable that the proponents of the bill crafted a version that they knew would be read by the courts as requiring all death row inmates to be spared, including the Cheshire home invaders. They were able to trick those who supported the bill but wanted to see Hayes and Komisarjevsky die first ( that is to say, morons, and there are lot of them, who say they believe capital punishment is immoral but also believe that the worst cases deserve to be executed anyway—logically incompatible beliefs). After the courts strike down the prospective-crimes-only provision as unconstitutional, these legsilators will tell angry voters that it isn’t their fault that Hayes and Komisarjevsky cheated the executioner…it’s the fault of those damn judges who always foil the will of duly elected representatives! (Wait…where have we heard that argument before?)
1. I believe an absolutist position that capital punishment is always immoral and unethical is mistaken, as well as corrupting to society. Hayes and Komisarjevsky are excellent illustrations of why this is so. No matter how narrowly capital punishment laws are drawn or applied, society must always have an ultimate penalty for the very worst human behavior, from which all other punishment can be compared and calibrated. If the Cheshire home invasion only warrants life imprisonment, then a routine premeditated multiple murder must certainly demand less punishment, until, like many European nations, we are letting murderers free after fewer than ten years in jail. Even if such cases appear but once in a decade, there must be some criminal conduct that society holds is so heinous and depraved that a citizen forfeits the right to life and the right to have society pay to continue that life.
2. If, however, a state decides otherwise—a defensible position, though I oppose it—that the death penalty is absolutely immoral, then it is unethical as well as incomprehensible to execute any human beings, even the likes of Hayes and Komisarjevsky, after passing a law that declares this is something the state must never do on moral grounds.
3. Voting for such a law, meanwhile, if one believes that there are individuals, like Hayes and Komisarjevsky, whose crimes dictate that they should be executed, is incompetent and intellectually indefensible.
4. Passing a prospective-only death penalty ban while knowing that such a limitation is likely to be rejected by the courts, as a ploy so that voters won’t hold lawmakers responsible for saving the miserable lives of Hayes and Komisarjevsky, is dishonest and cowardly.
No matter how you look at Connecticut’s capital punishment ban, it is either irresponsible, incompetent, lacks integrity, or all three.
Spark: “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me!” (NPR)
- Wikipedia: The Cheshire home invasion.
Graphics: Bonnie’s Blog of Crime
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