Steve-O-in NJ’s Comment of the Day on my post about the recent SCOTUS capital punishment opinion spawned another COTD. The immediate catalyst was my answer, within the post, to Steve’s query about what crimes I think warrant executions. One of my answers referenced the Cheshire, Connecticut home invasion and murders, which I wrote about extensively here.
Here is Rich in Ct’s Comment of the Day on the post,Comment Of The Day: “SCOTUS: There is No Right To Be Executed Painlessly”:“SCOTUS: There is No Right To Be Executed Painlessly”:
“The Cheshire, Conn. murders.” This is the crime that broke my opinion of the death penalty. I was initially ultra-liberal on this issue, thinking that the death penalty was just not acceptable today, but moderated considerably.
My initial view was a rather unexamined belief, essentially unchanged from what I had expressed in a middle school essay a few years before the home invasion. In that middle school essay, I decried the state of Connecticut for “murdering” Michael Ross, a jolly good chap who killed 8 souls before the age of 24. (Stipulated, even in middle school, I conceded wooden jails of the Wild West, etc, could not reliably contain dangerous individuals, necessitating the death penalty.)
My main argument was that killing was WRONG. This was axiomatic, not allowing counter argument. The only mitigating factor for execution, the need to protect the public, was adequately addressed with modern maximum-security prisons.
Ross was the last criminal successfully executed by Connecticut, making the opportunities to reflect on an actual case study vanishingly rare. However, Connecticut had several placed on its death rolls, each hopelessly tied up in appeals (mostly by design). A distressing number of capital indictments came from prosecutors in Waterbury, the major city in northwestern part of the state. Waterbury has a unique reputation for corruption second to none (in a state with Hartford, New Haven, and Bridgeport, mind you); disgraced ex-governor Rowland was employed by the city when he was released from prison.
Basically, if you committed murder in Waterbury, you got put in a long queue for a theoretical execution. Commit the same crime elsewhere, you got life in prison. In my mind (and the mind of many in state), the death penalty was hopelessly broken. The state dealt with the Waterbury problem by creating endless opportunities for appeal (a very Connecticut approach…).
Thus the death penalty was both WRONG and wasteful!
In 2004, Ross attempted to disrupt the system, by waiving his right to appeal. He said any hope of commuting his sentence through appeal was only going to cause his victims more pain. How noble. Michael Ross also spoke of finding peace and repentance, and had even joined a Catholic religious order, participating from his cell. As devout Catholic myself then (and now), I wanted him to experience some more temporal punishment in this life, rather than the state on my behalf expediting his trip to purgatory.
His lawyers also got severely reprimanded for advocating against further appeals, and had to launch some pro forma appeals against their client’s wishes just to save face.
Thus executing Ross was WRONG, GROSSLY wasteful, and perversely MERCIFUL. I was not impressed.
Having been successfully goaded into executing Ross in 2005, the state began to take the death-penalty/Waterbury problem seriously, and successfully repealed the death penalty in 2009. This was fast by Connecticut standards, but would have come even sooner were it not for a little problem in 2007….
On July 23, 2007, Steven Hayes and Joshua Komisarjevsky broke into the Petit home, tied everyone up, beat the father insensible, kidnapped the mother and promised to free her family if they took her to an ATM and emptied her checking account, and then killed her and her daughters anyway. Then they set fire to the house for good measure.
The two were caught minutes later down the street. (Mr. Petit crawled to safety.)
Komisarjevsky’s attorney had to zealously represent his client; he had to clarify to the media that his client did NOT rape the older girl, ONLY masturbated onto her (before murdering her).
I don’t even know if I felt anything then because it was just such a mind numbing waste of 5 lives (3 innocent dead, a ruined survivor, 2 goddamn knuckleheaded murderers), but the details are still vivid, and I get angry just thinking about it. (The one survivor has also became how I define the term.)
The case also did not fundamentally change my view on the death penalty. It just broke the first axiom… slightly. The penalty is still WRONG with maximum-security prisons available. However, if Connecticut had not abolished the death penalty as contemplated, one could not plausibly argue against trying this case as a capital offense.
The Cheshire home invasion was jarring enough that it got me to separate the purely moral WRONG-ness of the death penalty from the legal and purportedly just applications of it.
Ultimately Connecticut settled on a boneheaded plan to prescriptively abolish the death penalty for crimes committed AFTER 2009. This was meant to allow Steve and Joshua to meet there plausibly just demise with the residual death penalty available to crimes committed BEFORE the abolition law came into effect. The Connecticut Supreme Court ruled against this scheme, but in a supreme act of confidence, declared the state too-broken to constitutionally implement the death penalty at all.
From a moral standpoint, I am quite pleased that no new persons will be added to the in-death-inite row. However, from an ethical standpoint, I dislike the court’s ruling immensely. The death penalty should be voluntarily abolished by the people after weighing it merits and flaws, not moral platitudes imposed under the color of law.