JOINT FAVORABLE REPORT
AN ACT REVISING THE PENALTY FOR CAPITAL FELONIES.
SPONSORS OF BILL:
REASONS FOR BILL:
Statistics show the death penalty historically is not applied in a fair and impartial manner and there is no guarantee against error. Numerous individuals have been convicted of crimes who are subsequently found innocent through DNA and additional evidence. If even one person is sentenced to death erroneously through such an arbitrary and discriminatory manner open to human error, this ultimate penalty must be abolished. The State of Connecticut should not have the power to extinguish life, given the inaccuracies inherent in the current system. This bill will replace the death penalty with a penalty of life imprisonment without the possibility of release for certain murders committed on or after the effective date of this act.
RESPONSE FROM ADMINISTRATION/AGENCY:
Division of Criminal Justice: Takes no position on the death penalty. The fundamental question of whether there should or should not be a death penalty is one of public policy that depends on the evolving standards of the people of the State of Connecticut. Notably, however, polls indicate that Connecticut's citizens strongly support the death penalty. The argument that the death penalty process is unworkable ignores the fact that the federal government and other states have made their process workable, reliable, and relatively timely through legislations and rules of the court. The Connecticut General Assembly and the Judicial Branch have the same power and authority to do so. Whether repeal of the death penalty will result in substantial cost savings also needs to be examined closely. At the trial and sentencing stage, the cost of prosecution will not be reduced substantially. In appellate and post-conviction proceedings, the amount of savings are difficult to determine because of the likely increase in habeas petitions that will be filed if there is no habeas reform.
The Division of Criminal Justice urges the Judiciary Committee to proceed with caution and consider all of the potential implications that even the slightest change to the capital felony statutes could have both in terms of policy and practice. One of these considerations is that prospective repeal will create two classes of people: one will be subject to execution and the other will not, not because of the nature of the crime or the existence or absence of mitigating or aggravating factors, but because of the date on which the crime was committed. It would be untenable as a matter of constitutional law or public policy to execute someone today who could not be executed for the same conduct at some point in the future. Another consideration is that repeal of the death penalty, whether prospective or retroactive, will result in little to no long-term financial savings to the state. The Division of Criminal Justice may realize greater demands if the sole penalty for a capital offense becomes life without the possibility of release. Death penalty litigation will be replaced by as much or possibly more litigation challenging convictions and/or sentences. The Division's experience with habeas shows that litigation can continue unabated throughout the entire lifetime of an inmate so sentenced. Finally, the prosecution of death penalty cases in Connecticut today is not a matter of delaying the inevitable but rather one of inevitable delay. Actual guilt is not at issue; the issue is that the duly ordered sentence of the court has not been carried out due to delay for the sake of delay. This delay for the sake of delay is the sole reason for the reported high cost of capital litigation, not incompetent counsel or overzealous prosecutors.
The Division of Criminal Justice strongly recommends that the Committee examine all of these issues in deliberating on this bill. Connecticut should not abolish the death penalty solely because those who oppose it have been successful at achieving delay rather than allowing the facts of each case to be finally adjudicated and the law rightfully applied. The best that we can and must strive for is finality in the process.
Susan O. Storey-Office of Chief Public Defender: Supports this bill. The Office of Chief Public Defender supports total abolition of the death penalty and also urges that the bill be amended to abolish the death penalty retroactively as well as prospectively. A prospective repeal would be an important advance, but leaving current death sentences in place would not fully implement the policy goals of repealing the death penalty. The litigation of these existing cases would continue to consume resources that could be put to better use elsewhere.
Less than half of Connecticut residents prefer the death penalty for murder when given a choice between death and life without the possibility of release. Other States reject the death penalty as an expensive policy that does not deliver fair or accurate results. The complex legal framework at play requires extraordinary time and resources and is still prone to a high rate of error. Few death penalties are actually carried out. Nationally, only 15% of death sentences were carried out between 1997 and 2010. There are still death sentences under review for crimes committed over 25 years ago and there are hundreds of inmates on death row in other States for crimes committed in the 1970s and 1980s. Connecticut has no system in place to ensure that the few cases in which the death penalty is sought or imposed represent only the most culpable of the larger number of individuals who have committed capital offenses.
The death penalty in Connecticut and elsewhere is imposed in an arbitrary and discriminatory manner. In 2009, many legislators in Connecticut stated that they could not support the death penalty because they could not say that it was free of the influence of racial bias or that it was not being randomly imposed. In an influential report by Professor John Donahue states that in Connecticut, there is data indicating that there are enormous and unexplained geographical disparities, death sentences are not confined to the worst murderers, there are racial and gender biases in death sentences, and that there is arbitrariness in the key charging and sentencing decisions of the Connecticut death penalty system.
Additionally, the American Law Institute (ALI), in 2009, disapproved the Model Penal Code capital sentencing provisions finding that no State in the past 30 years has successfully confined the death penalty to the narrow band of the most aggravated cases and that it is extraordinarily difficult to disentangle race from the American death penalty.
Lastly, the death penalty required over 8% of the total Public Defender Budget for FY 2011 for only 0.4% of their caseload. This significant allocation to such a small number of cases diverts resources from providing effective representation to all of the Public Defender clients.
Frank Sykes- African-American Affairs Commission: Supports this bill. The first of a number of reasons this Commission supports this bill is that African-Americans make up the vast majority of the incarcerated population at both the juvenile and adult levels of the criminal justice system, being 44% and 42% respectively. The lifetime likelihood of incarceration for African-Americans is 16.2%, almost twice that of Hispanics at 9.4% and more than six times that of whites at 2.5%. Among men, African-Americans have a 28.5% chance of incarceration over their lifetime as opposed to Hispanics at 16.2% and whites at 4.4%. Research indicates that race, class, and cultural affiliation are factors that influence jurors' decisions in their administration of justice. The statistics are heavily stacked against African-Americans and at least 5 of Connecticut's inmates on death row are black. We support rehabilitation and treatment, not capital punishment.
Secondly, there is no such thing as a perfect justice system. In Connecticut, James Tillman served 16.5 years in prison before being exonerated by DNA.
Thirdly, it costs approximately $40,000 annually to house an inmate in Connecticut's prison system. Most estimates indicate that the costs in capital punishment cases are significantly higher. There is also strong evidence that the death penalty reduces resources for crime prevention, mental health treatment, education and rehabilitation, meaningful victim's services, and drug treatment programs. These should be invested in above capital punishment and even incarceration.
NATURE AND SOURCES OF SUPPORT:
Senator Donald E. Williams, Jr.: Supports this bill. Sen. Williams is opposed to the death penalty and believes Connecticut's ultimate criminal penalty should be life in prison without the possibility of parole. There are many reasons the death penalty does not belong in Connecticut's system of Justice. First, it is a penalty that cannot be revisited once exacted. No system of justice is perfect and mistakes are made in our criminal courts. Ordinarily, when a conviction is overturned the defendant is released and although they cannot get the time they served back, they can at least rebuild their lives. When the death penalty is carried out, there is no opportunity to correct mistakes. In a system of justice that is not perfect, we must not employ a penalty that requires perfection.
The death penalty is not a deterrent to crime. In recent polls, police chiefs ranked the death penalty as the lease effective tool in reducing the rate of violent crime. Additionally, economics play a discriminatory role in who is charged with and convicted of a capital offense. Individuals who can afford a “dream team” of defense lawyers are often not sentenced to death when they have committed crimes similar to others on death row. Prosecutors are deterred from pursuing the death penalty when defendants have the financial means to employ costly experts and defense counsel. Race often plays a role, and when combined with economics is doubly discriminatory. Blacks and whites have been the victims of murders in almost equal numbers, yet 80% of the people executed since 1977 were convicted of murders involving white victims. Black defendants are more likely to be sentenced to death if their victims are white rather than black, and murderers of Black or Latino victims are treated less harshly than murderers of white victims.
There is an unacceptable level of randomness to the death penalty. Stanford Law professor John Donahue, in a study of all Connecticut death penalty cases over a 34-year period ending in 2007, found virtually no difference between the severity of crimes committed by Connecticut's death row compared to other violent offenders sentenced to life in prison or lesser terms. He concluded that “the state's record of handling death-eligible cases represents a chaotic and unsound criminal justice policy that serves neither deterrence or retribution…arbitrariness and discrimination are defining features of the state's capital punishment regime.”
The punishment of life in prison without the possibility of parole makes more sense. It is a severe punishment and does not require those victimized by violence to relive the crime through multiple post-conviction hearings and appeals. Life in prison is a certain and final sentence. It is important that we strive to have a system of justice that is consistent, fair, and free from prejudice as is humanly possible.
Senator Martin M. Looney: Supports this bill. After many years on the United States Supreme Court, Justice Harry Blackmun recognized the reality that the death penalty cannot be applied in a fair and impartial manner and that there could be no guarantee against error. The State, as a fallible human institution, should not have the power to take a human life and to act with hubris and arrogance when humility and restraint should prevail.
Executing criminals does not restore lost or shattered lives, it does not make our state safer, and does not provide financial savings. More importantly, our criminal justice system is not sufficiently immune from error to entrust it with the ultimate penalty. The death penalty will eventually execute an innocent person here as it has in other states. A wrongful conviction is tragic; a wrongful execution is tragic and unforgiveable. It is also avoidable by passing this legislation.
Since 1973, for every inmate on death row who was released due to improper prosecution or innocence there have been 9 put to death. This 1 to 9 ratio is troubling and further demonstrates that the government is not infallible.
Application of the death penalty has been shown to be racially biased and a person is much more likely to receive a death sentence if he or she murders a white victim. This and other disparities are indicative of an arbitrary and capricious system that does not have a consistent standard for the application of the death penalty. Connecticut's own statute allowing the weighing and balancing of mitigating versus aggravating factors introduces the possibility of dangerous subjectivity.
The death penalty does not save resources, as the costs of capital felony cases are significantly higher than non-capital felony cases. It is also not a deterrent. The South has the highest execution rate as well as the highest homicide rate, whereas the Northeast has the lowest homicide rate in the county and there has only been one execution in the last decade.
The death penalty is simply retribution, which solves nothing and is not a rational part of our criminal justice system. We must not, as a State and nation, take lives for the sake of vengeance. Killing is wrong whether done by a criminal or the State.
The death penalty offers no constructive contribution to society's efforts to defeat violent crime and diverts resources from such efforts. It undermines a civilized society by perpetuating the idea that life is disposable at the hands of our fellow human beings.
Representative Michael L. Molgano: Supports this bill. The 2010 Death Penalty Information Center's annual report states, “executions declined by 12% compared to 2009” across the country, with a national drop in death sentences of 50% from the 1990s to the first decade of the 21st century. A May 2010 Lake Research Partners national poll canvassed 1,500 registered voters, of which 61% chose alternative punishments over the death penalty. Seventy-one percent were opposed to the death penalty to prevent executing innocent people. The very thought of putting an innocent person to death because of errors in a case should be a clarion call to abolish the death penalty.
Although the outrage and desire for retribution by those who have lost a loved one is understandable, a number of Connecticut residents who have lost a member of their family due to violent crime are opposed to putting those responsible to death. The common sentiment was that taking the life of the murderer would never compensate for the life of their loved one.
Life imprisonment without the possibility release should not be an alternative to the death penalty. A person permanently remanded to prison would forever be removed from society, which is a loss of life. Additionally, if someone serving a life sentence is later found innocent, the risk of a wrongful execution is removed.
Representative Charlie L. Stallworth: Supports this bill. Although Rep. Stallworth's background is theological, he does not rest his support solely on tenants of theology and morality. The death penalty in Connecticut is inherently flawed. There are numerous examples of mistake made in the application of the death penalty across the country. There have been 140 people freed from death row for a number of reasons. Aside from the possibility of getting it wrong, the way in which we select who lives and who dies is another flawed aspect of the death penalty's application. Professor John Donahue of Stanford Law School has concluded that over the last thirty years in Connecticut the death penalty has been applied in a racist manner. The race of the defendant and the race of the defendant are strong determinants as to whether or not the state will seek the death penalty. The study conducted by Dr. Donahue indicated that a defendant in Connecticut is 6 times more likely to be sentenced to death if they are a minority and if the victim was Caucasian.
Rep. Stallworth has been fighting for civil rights during his entire ministry and the death penalty is an important civil rights issue in our time. Generations to come will look back and question how we could for so long condone a punishment so unfairly handed out.
Last year, Rep. Stallworth's five-year-old granddaughter was killed in a car accident. He often wonders as he thinks about the death penalty that if the circumstances of his granddaughter's death implicated the death penalty if he would feel differently and each time his answer has been no. Dr. King suggested that if we keep acting on an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, we would only become a blind and toothless society.
He is before you as a religious leader, seminary professor, an African American, and a person who knows what it is to lose a precious life. He asks that the Committee do what is morally right and do everything in your power to ensure that the death penalty is repealed this year.
ACLU Chapter at Yale University: The death penalty is an antiquated, unconstitutional practice that violates the fundamental rights of American citizens. There are deep and troubling questions about the possibility of executing innocent people that cannot be ignored. Further, the death penalty is racially and economically discriminatory, violating the equal protection afforded by the US Constitution. Overwhelming statistical evidence suggests that the death penalty is imposed on black and poor defendants, which is particularly appalling given the irreversible nature of the punishment. Additionally, the death penalty violates our Eighth Amendment guarantee against cruel and unusual punishment. The death penalty belongs to a barbaric tradition of punishment established at a time when slavery and branding were commonplace. The United States is the last Western industrialized nation to retain this practice, which makes it unusual by definition, as does its arbitrary and uncommon application where it is pursued. It also violates the Constitution's due process guarantee by robbing defendants of their right to appeal if new evidence is discovered. The vast majority of this country's criminological societies reject its deterrent effect. No meaningful difference exists between life in prison and death and any societal benefit derived from this difference is marginal or nonexistent. Finally, the death penalty is an unnecessary and unconscionable waste of money. Our already strained and overburdened legal system cannot bear the costs that additional capital cases would produce.
Yale University Amnesty International Chapter, Alexander Emmons-: As coordinator of Yale's Amnesty International Chapter, Mr. Emmons is representing student views as well as five-thousand dues paying members of Amnesty International in Connecticut in their support for the abolition of the death penalty. The United States ranks 5th in the world for number of prisoners executed annually, behind Yemen and North Korea, while 139 nations have abolished the practice completely. Amnesty International believes the death penalty is the ultimate human rights violation, denying a prisoner's right to life and to be reintegrated into society. It does so in an impractical, costly, and often discriminatory way, all while not being a deterrent to crime. It is society's vengeful statement of retribution. Abolishing the death penalty is not going soft on crime but an assertive stance for both justice and progress.
Amanda Lovell: As a prosecutor in Massachusetts, Attorney Lovell did every kind of work that could be done in a state without the death penalty. She recounts two cases, one where a juvenile was convicted of murder and later exonerated after spending 5 years in jail, and another where a man was convicted of manslaughter although the facts clearly called for murder. The defendant in the latter case ended up killing 4 more people in the six months following his release. Juries, like every other part of the justice system, are made up of people and people can make mistakes. A conviction for first-degree murder in Massachusetts requires life in prison, which protects the public at least as well as the death penalty does. Since we know that innocent people get convicted of first-degree murder, we cannot support our government taking the chance of killing an innocent person.
ACLU of CT, Andrew Schneider-: The death penalty is the ultimate denial of civil liberties and an irreversible punishment used by a justice system that makes mistakes, thus creating the very real risk of executing an innocent person. The implementation is arbitrary, discriminatory, and does not deter crime. If the death penalty were implemented fairly and rationally, factors such as race, geography, and poverty would not influence who gets executed and who does not. The level of zeal of a particular prosecutor is arbitrary and produces a startling pattern in Connecticut, where a high representation of people on death row is from the Waterbury area. Stanford Law professor John Donahue reported that a vastly higher rate of death sentences were handed out in Waterbury. As part of the same study, Professor Donahue looked at whether Connecticut adhered to the US Supreme Court's guidance that the death penalty be reserved for the worst of the worst cases and he found the opposite to be true, that the egregiousness of the crime seemed to be unrelated to the application of the death penalty.
Mr. Schneider also points to racial disparity, the inability for the poor to afford adequate legal representation, that it is not a deterrent, and that it is an expensive system that Connecticut has only used once to completion in the last 40 years.
Andy Eicher: Mr. Eicher is a West Hartford resident and student at Conrad High School who is expressing his generation's thoughts about the death penalty and their concern about executing someone who is innocent. He brings up the Troy Davis case out of Georgia as an example of executing an innocent person. Mr. Davis was executed even though the evidence against him was shown to be biased or flat out false. Although DNA evidence is valuable, it is only available in a small number of cases. Additionally, if new evidence is found that indicates innocence, once a defendant is executed it is too late.
According to Amnesty International, about 50% of murder victims are white, and the other approximately 50% are a minority, yet over 77% of the prisoners on death row are accused of killing a white victim. This shows racial biases that we cannot allow to lead to executions.
Humans make mistakes and these mistakes can convict persons of crimes they did not commit. As a society, we must ensure that this does not result in anyone losing their life.
Anne Stone: Mrs. Stone's son was murdered in Washington D.C., the case was never solved, and is currently a cold case. In CT, there are hundreds of cold cases that are being neglected due to lack of resources. The cold case unit has nearly been cut in half and there are hundreds of families in CT living with uncertainty, not to mention possibly hundreds of murderers on the streets. Meanwhile, CT is spending millions on only a handful of death penalty cases. Those resources could be put to better use and right can be done by victims' families in Connecticut.
CT Network to Abolish the Death Penalty, Executive Director Ben Jones: (CNADP), is a statewide, grassroots organization committed to ending Connecticut's death penalty through public education and citizen advocacy. They oppose the death penalty in all cases but still supports this bill, although its application is prospective, because it is still a progressive step toward ending capital punishment in our state.
The diverse membership of the CNADP is unified in their belief that the death penalty in Connecticut is a public policy that is broken beyond repair. The reform passed in 1995 that claimed to make the death penalty “workable” has done nothing to ease the public's frustration. Capital cases drag on for decades, often inflicting additional pain on victims' families as they wait for what seems to be a never-ending process. Legislators' and judges' inability to fix the system stems from an irresolvable tension about capital punishment. Shortening the process increases the risk of executing the innocent and introducing more safeguards prolongs the legal process for victim's families. This, in Connecticut, has resulted in a system that is neither foolproof nor swift. The only way to fix the death penalty is to repeal it.
As long as this failed policy remains in place, it negatively impacts society in a number of avoidable ways. Specifically, it 1) puts innocent lives at risk, 2) suffers from bias and discrimination, 3) fails to deter crime, 4) wastes millions of dollars, 5) can inflict additional harm on victims' families, and 6) can cause secondary trauma to corrections officials.
Beth Heller: Ms. Heller is a resident of Woodbridge who believes that the death penalty may cause additional pain by extending the legal process and giving a false sense of finality to victims of crimes since there could be decades of appeals. She finds it can be disrespectful to the families who have lost loved ones. She also believes that the requirement that it be reserved for only the most heinous murders is misleading since every murder is heinous. The additional resources required in death penalty cases makes them more costly than life imprisonment cases, the latter of which effectively protects society. She points out that virtually all civilized countries have abolished state-sponsored violence. She also believes the death penalty is not applied equally across races and ethnic groups. She asserts that it is not a deterrent and points out that states with the death penalty tend to have higher murder rates than those without it. And lastly, she believes it to be a cruel and unusual punishment that carries with it the possibility of executing an innocent person. In closing, the Woodbridge Democratic Town Committee recently passed a resolution – almost unanimously – calling the CT General Assembly to repeal the death penalty this year for these reasons and for others.
Catherine Ednie: Ms. Ednie's brother and four of his friends were killed by their landlord and supports repeal of the death penalty because it has harmed and continues to harm families of murder victims in a number of ways. First, the fact that it is supposed to be reserved for the worst of the worst is insulting and hurtful to those victims of murders that fall in the “not so bad” category. Second, Connecticut does not actual reserve the death penalty for the “worst of the worst.” The Donahue report actually referenced her brother's case, stating that most people would find a case where the killer drives all the way from North Carolina to kill five tenants, shoots them all, then lights the house on fire…to be an unusually egregious crime. Although the death penalty was initially sought, the State, in what was labeled a “stunning reversal,” suddenly ended this pursuit for unknown reasons. She would find a tremendous sense of relief if Connecticut would drop the arbitrary and hurtful illusion that the death penalty is needed for the worst of the worst. Families of murder victims would be better served by having the maximum penalty be life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Quinnipiac University School Of Law, Christine Gertsch: As a member of Quinnipiac Law School's Civil Justice Clinic, Ms. Gertsch believes that the argument that a prospective-only death penalty repeal will be interpreted by the Connecticut Supreme Court as retroactively nullifying death sentences is wrong. While the clinic supports complete repeal, there is legal merit to a prospective-only repeal that leaves in place current death sentences and abolishes those going forward. It is a reasonable compromise that preserves the finality interests of victims and their families.
In the recent case of State v. Rizzo (2011) made it clear that prospective repeal will factor into the court's analysis in reviewing challenges to current death sentences, the impact will likely be negligible. Prior to Rizzo, however, the Supreme Court has employed the Geisler factors as a test to determine whether the death penalty is constitutional and in every instance has found it to be. The factors are 1) the text of the constitutional provision, 2) related Connecticut precedents, 3) persuasive federal precedents, 4) persuasive precedents of other state courts, 5) historical insights into the intent of our constitutional forbearers, and 6) policy considerations such as contemporary understandings of applicable economic and sociological norms. Under the sixth footnote there are six subparts, one of which is the action of the Legislature. In essence, the legislative action will make up one sixth of one of the six factors the court will consider. Additionally, in footnote 88 of Rizzo, the Supreme Court strongly signaled that existing death sentences would remain constitutional after a prospective repeal.
In Rizzo and many other cases, the Connecticut Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the death penalty based primarily on the first five Geisler factors, which indicates that a prospective death penalty repeal will survive constitutional challenge.
Cindy Siclari: As the sister of murder victim, she was pro-life before the crime and remained afterwards because the death penalty does not respect life and it is a foolish endeavor. Following the death of her sister, her family needed answers about the crime, help in the legal system, and counseling for their children. They did not need the costly distraction of the death penalty.
Collaborative Center For Justice, Inc.: The death penalty should be analyzed rationally and objectively based on its merits and not on the emotional nightmare of a few prominent affluent families who sought the death penalty as a punishment for the accused in their particular situation. The death penalty is not a deterrent, the system is broken and risks executing innocent people, is based on geographical, ethnic, and socio-economic statuses, and costly. Incarceration without the possibility of parole is a less expensive and better alternative.
CT Catholic Public Affairs Conference, Inc., Testimony of the Roman Catholic Bishops of CT, Rev. Peter A. Rosazza: It is clear that a fallible system cannot produce certitude in all cases that involve the possible execution of a human being by the state. The Pope envisions a consistent ethic in favor of human life, which is sacred and deserves the utmost respect from conception to natural death. People do not lose this sacredness because they have taken a life. In this regard, Pope John Paul, in 1999, said, “A sign of hope is the increasing recognition that the dignity of human life must never be taken away, even in the case of someone who has done great evil. Modern society has the means of protecting itself, without definitively denying criminals the chance to reform. I renew my appeal for a consensus to end the death penalty, which is both cruel and unusual.” The death penalty does not afford a criminal the opportunity to repent and beg for forgiveness from the grieving family members. Pope Benedict XVI has continued in the direction of his predecessor and recently praised the work of delegations working to end the death penalty around throughout the world. Following the Pope's lead, the Catholic bishops of our country stated, “The death penalty diminishes all of us. Its use ought to be abandoned, not only for what it does to those who are executed, but what it does to us as a society. We cannot teach respect for life by taking life.”
Daryl K. Roberts- Retired Chief Of Police, Hartford PD: Chief Roberts has been a police officer for over half of his life and can say with an absolute certainty that the death penalty does nothing for law enforcement. The death penalty does not further the goal of serving our communities and the notion that it is a deterrent is absurd. Having dealt with the “worst of the worst,” he is sure that the death penalty is the furthest thing from their mind. Police chiefs across the country agree with this, as is evidenced by a 2009 survey of police chiefs where the majority ranked the death penalty as the least effective tool to deter crime.
The death penalty may be a hindrance to law enforcement. Educational programs and programs for community involvement much more effective, yet due to budgetary constraints, these programs are under-funded. If given the choice between our ineffective death penalty and effective community crime prevention programs, he would choose the latter every time.
Finally, the death penalty does not help surviving victims. He can say this both as a first responder and the cousin of a murder victim. Their decades long wait for finality is wrong. The death penalty is irrelevant at best and a tremendous distraction at worst.
Unitarian Church in Westport, David Vita-: The main concern of Mr. Vita and the Unitarian Church is the risk of executing an innocent person. Additionally, they believe in the inherent worth and dignity of each human being. In their 2005 Statement of Conscience, the Unitarian Universalist Association stated, “Experience shows that judges and juries wrongly convict defendants. Given the number of death row inmates released on account of innocence, it is highly likely that we have executed innocent people and will do so again in the future unless we abolish the death penalty.”
The death penalty is the ultimate punishment with no room for error yet it is applied in an arbitrary and random way that implicates race, class, and geography as the determinate factors, rather than the egregiousness of the crime. There is also concern that the death penalty is a costly endeavor that harms families of murder victims.
The death penalty is arbitrary, error-prone, costly, and needs to be abolished now.
Dawn Mancarella: Ms. Mancarella is the daughter of a murder victim who was thrown into the lengthy proceedings of a broken legal system where she felt powerless, voiceless, and ultimately unable to continue the healing process. Navigating CT's legal system was exasperating to her. After 9 months of continuances she was told that the accused wanted a plea bargain, a decision in which she had no say. The death penalty should be looked at keeping in mind that our system does not allow victims to have the ultimate say. Time and energy can be better spent on refocusing resources on policies that are beneficial to the majority of victims.
Dr. Gail Southard Canzano: Dr. Canzano is a clinical psychologist and a family member of a murder victim. One the eve of jury selection, the man that killed her brother-in-law pled guilty and agreed to 30 years in prison. Families need to focus on themselves and their healing after a homicide and they need all of their energies to do this. The death penalty maintains all of the focus on the murderer and the judicial system holds out a promise it does not keep and brings heartache to energy-depleted victims as they wait for an execution that never comes. From a professional standpoint, she is sure that the death penalty is nothing but harmful to the families of murder victims. Instead of focusing on the mental health needs of survivors, the judicial process exacerbates the vulnerability of homicide survivors, making it impossible for them to disengage from the event and heal.
The American Psychiatric Association, joined by the American Psychological Association and the National Association of Social Workers, call for an end to execution. Capital punishment is an inherently destructive act that perpetuates violence, wastes money, and impedes the healing of homicide survivors. Murderers deserve to be put away and forgotten and the survivors of homicide deserve to be released from their grip.
Ridgefield Police Commissioner, Dr. George Kain: Although the risk of wrongful conviction is a real concern, Dr. Kain and his colleagues oppose the death penalty for economic reasons. Precious financial resources are wasted on a process that leads to a punishment infrequently applied and less frequently carried out, taking away resources from effective prevention and intervention programs. Additionally, these millions of dollars could be used to train law enforcement officers and increase victim services. In the words of former US Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun, “the death penalty experiment has failed.” Law enforcement doesn't need the death penalty, the State of Connecticut doesn't need the death penalty, and our country doesn't need the death penalty.
Dr. Khalilah Brown-Dean, Assoc. Professor of Political Science, Quinnipiac University: Dr. Brown-Dean has spent 10 years analyzing and quantifying the impact of crime and punishment on society. The death penalty does nothing to keep us safe, as evidenced by the statistics on crime rates and deterrence. It is also a biased system. Last year, Dr. Brown-Dean's cousin was murdered and she believes that at no point did the thought of possibly losing his own life prevent her cousin's murderer from doing what he did. The death penalty cannot bring closure, nor can it bring peace. It is applied arbitrarily and in an unjust matter, relying on class, race, and gender as factors to consider. Shortening the appeals process and rushing into execution, although seemingly bringing closure to victims' families, will only raise more doubt. Who we are as a state and nation depends on our ability to extend humanity to others, even as they deny it in themselves and to others.
CT. Criminal Defense Lawyers Assoc., Edward Gavin and Jennifer Zito: The CCDLA works to improve the criminal justice system by ensuring that the individual rights guaranteed by the Connecticut and United States Constitutions are applied fairly and equally and that those rights are not abridged. The CCDLA believes that the death penalty is never appropriate and that the penalty of life imprisonment without the possibility of release is more than adequate to protect Connecticut citizens and punish those who commit the most heinous homicides. They believe that capital punishment is morally wrong, unconstitutional per se and as applied, that it risks executing an innocent person, that it fails to deter crime, that it seldom provides closure to victims' families, and that it wastes scarce taxpayer resources. Although prospective, the CCDLA supports SB 280 in that it is a step in the right direction. The CCDLA will defer to the analysis offered by Quinnipiac Law School.
Taking a life to prove how much we value another life does not strengthen society. It is merely vengeance wrapped in the mantle of retribution. It cannot and never will adequately compensate family members for the loss they have suffered. There are warning signs that the application of the death penalty suffers from geographical, racial, and economic disparity. There are also indications that it is applied arbitrarily. It is not a deterrent and it is expensive. These factors, coupled with the possibility of executing an innocent person, should encourage the General Assembly to abolish the death penalty.
Elizabeth M. Brancato: Ms. Brancato's mother was brutally murdered and she feels that the death penalty has hurt, not helped, her. The number of victim family members that support repeal of the death penalty continues to grow. This is so because the death penalty is not a deterrent, it is costly, mistakes can and have been made, it is against the moral and religious beliefs of many, it is poor public policy, discriminatorily applied, and that it hurts, rather than helps, the families and friends of murder victims. Connecticut needs to join the rest of the civilized world and abolish the death penalty.
League of Women Voters of CT, Ellen W. McBride, Death Penalty Specialist: The LWVCT believes that the death penalty should not be a sentencing option for any crime, not even murder, when life without the possibility of release can ensure public safety without raising the complex problems associated with the death penalty. The League has concluded that the death penalty costs more than life imprisonment, causes additional harm to victims' families, it cannot be proven as a deterrent, and that it is not applied fairly and consistently without regard to race, gender, socio-economics, or geography. Connecticut has convicted innocent people of murder, which takes years to undo.
Fernando Bermudez: Mr. Bermudez spent 18 years in prison for a murder he did not commit. He is convinced that is only a matter of time before we commit the unthinkable and execute an innocent person.
Yale College Democrats, Igor Mitschka: The Universal Declaration of Human Rights grants every human being the right to life, as does the US Constitution. The death penalty violates this intrinsic human right. The application of the death penalty has turned out to be inconsistent, racially and socio-economically biased, and thus unjust. A democratic state must live by the same principles it expects its citizens to live by. The principle not to kill, except in self-defense, must not be violated by either an individual or the state.
Stamford NAACP, Jack Bryant: Although the NAACP has opposed the death penalty for years, the recent execution of Troy Davis in Georgia has galvanized their position. Georgia put finality above making sure an innocent life is protected and never taken through an execution. The National President of the NAACP, Ben Jealous, stated that, “Troy's execution, the exceptional unfairness of it, will only hasten the death penalty in the United States. The world will remember the name of Troy Anthony Davis. In death he will live on as a symbol of a broken justice system that kills an innocent man while a murderer walks free.” Troy Davis' sister came to Stamford to advocate for the repeal of the death penalty in CT because she knows that her brother will not be the last as long as the death penalty remains in place. Ending the death penalty will ensure that Connecticut never has its own Troy Davis.
Jane Caron MSW: Mrs. Caron is a clinical social worker and the niece of a murder victim. What she knows from herself and from her clients is the overwhelming need to seek a place of peace. In the case of her aunt, the justice system worked well. The murderer was found and pled guilty and was given a life sentence. This quick resolution allowed her family to move closer towards that place of peace. Justice is ultimately served when the needs of the victim's family members are met. Additionally, putting murders into categories of severity may intensify the grief for those whose crimes where not quite violent enough, and on the other hand, for those capital cases, families may spend decades enduring court proceedings. Social workers believe that capital punishment goes against their Code of Ethics and helping family members to heal and find peace will serve the greater good and support justice.
John Caron: As a veteran who served in Vietnam as a Marine Corp pilot, Mr. Caron was charged with teaching those under him the concept of “Just War,” which encompassed utilizing “minimum force” to accomplish the mission. Additionally, once the enemy was in control, lethal or unnecessary force was unacceptable. Applying these principles to executing a prisoner here violates those two principles. The situation here is under control, there is no longer a threat, and the prisoner is incarcerated. This realization is sickening to Mr. Caron and he hopes that Connecticut will rise to the same standard that is expected of our military and police.
New York Yearly Meeting, Judy Meikle: The NY Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends is a gathering of Quaker meeting and worship groups, one of which is located in Wilton, CT. Their guiding truth is that the divine is in each person and they believe in peace, simplicity, equality, community, and integrity. They believe that no one is beyond redemption and are against the death penalty because it violates these principles and because murder is wrong, whether committed by an individual or the State.
CT Innocence Project, Karen Goodrow: Opposition to the death penalty is based on 1) mistakes are made, as evidenced by recent exonerations in CT, 2) cases of innocence are extremely hard to prove, 3) there exists a risk of executing an innocent person, and 4) repeal of the death penalty is consistent with protecting the innocent and ensuring that our justice system functions in a fair and reliable manner.
Yale University, Katherine Naples-Mitchell: As the co-coordinator of Yale's Amnesty International chapter, Ms. Naples-Mitchell believes that the death penalty is a fundamental, irreversible denial of human rights. The Connecticut justice system has valid alternatives to death, such as life without the possibility of parole. A systemic process that ends a human existence cannot stand in a righteous and just society.
Martin Mador: As a member of the national staff of the NAACP, Mr. Mador has observed what the death penalty lawyers did while working on their cases and he was appalled. He has seen that death penalties are handed out to primarily black defendants, especially where the victim was white. Although necessary, the appeals process deprives the victim's family of closure. He also believes that the cost of death penalty litigation exceeds that of life imprisonment. The system cannot be flawless as is required, it is not a deterrent, and its imposition is in direct correlation with the poverty of the defendant.
Mary L. Sanders: Any kind of killing is wrong and the current system is racist and unjust. Repealing the death penalty would be a bold statement that CT lawmakers want true and equitable justice.
Mercy High School: Students at Mercy High School, a Catholic diocesan high school in Middletown, agree with the Catholic Church in opposing the death penalty because it goes against the Culture of Life that the Church is trying to spread in our world.
Nathaniel Rubin- Yale Class of 2015: The death penalty gives prosecution an unfair advantage. No aspect of justice, especially this one, is perfect. When a person is falsely accused, they could face the two terrible options of either going to trial with the death penalty on the table or pleading guilty and receiving life in prison.
Black Student Alliance at Yale, Nia Holston: The Alliance believes that the death penalty does not provide for the fair and just treatment of all individuals under the law of the United States, especially equal protection under that law, as African Americans are overrepresented in cases where the death penalty is used.
Pamela Joiner: As a mother of a murder victim, Mrs. Joiner is enraged by the notion that the death penalty is reserved for the “worst of the worst.” This classification is an unfair distinction between losses that feels like a slap in the face to her. Murder is the worst of the worst.
Peter Tsimbidaros: As a criminal attorney, two of Mr. Tsimbidaros' clients were wrongfully convicted of murder and spent more than 16 years in prison. Our criminal justice system makes mistakes and has no place for the death penalty. Connecticut needs to end the death penalty to ensure it never makes the tragic mistake of sending an innocent person to death row.
Professor John J, Donohue III: In a comprehensive and exhaustive report following a study, Prof. Donahue has concluded that the extreme infrequency with which the death penalty is administered in CT raises serious questions as to whether it serves any legitimate social purpose. The death penalty regime in CT does not select from death-eligible defendants who deserve execution most but haphazardly singles out a handful for execution from an array of horrible murders. He also found gender, racial, and geographic disparities, as well as arbitrariness in charging and sentencing decisions.
Congregation Beth Israel, Rabbi Michael Pincus: Since 1958, the Union of Reform Judaism has formally opposed the death penalty, stating “there is no crime for which the taking of a human life by society is justified, and that is the obligation of society to evolve other methods of dealing with crime.” Connecticut Legislators should resist the entreaties of those who call for vengeance, retribution, and death and should seek instead repentance and rehabilitation from our state's wrongdoers.
Rae Giesing: Mrs. Giesing has experienced first hand what it feels like to be a victim in the Connecticut justice system following the murder of her son and she is happy that hers was not a capital case. Absolute certainty is demanded when lives are at stake but not required in our system.
CT Conference United Church of Christ, Rev. Charles L. Wildman: Rev. Wildman has argued against the death penalty for his nearly 40 year ministry and cannot find a faithful rationale for taking the life of someone accused of a heinous crime. There is also a justice issue, as the majority of those executed are from minority communities where poverty and substance abuse are rampant. Human life is cheapened for all those who turn their back on Jesus' teachings and the sociological facts concerning the death penalty. We must ask ourselves, what would Jesus say? And what protections would we want if we were falsely accused of a capital crime?
Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church, Rev. Dr. W. Vance Cotten, Sr.: Since the execution of Troy Davis, Rev. Cotton has been haunted by the fact that human beings are fallible and the Davis case was not the first time the death penalty system has shown us our limitations. Across the country over 140 men have been released from death row. There is nothing shameful about the fact that we have limitations. It is shameful, however, that we undertake something as permanent and serious as the death penalty when we know full well that we can, and do, make mistakes. Additionally, we are biased. In Connecticut, 3 of the 4 individuals recently exonerated from long prison terms were people of color. This reminds us that Connecticut is not immune to having our own Troy Davis.
Rev. Walter H. Everett: Although his son was shot and killed in Bridgeport in 1987, Rev. Everett is opposed to the death penalty based on the emotional and fiscal cost. It is not a deterrent, it is exorbitantly costly, and the emotional cost of sitting through decades of litigation prevents them from living again. Money can be better spent caring for these victims.
Episcopal Diocese of CT, Bishop Suffragan, Reverend Laura J. Ahrens: The Episcopal public policy is opposed to the death penalty and works actively to abolish it. All capital crimes are heinous and perpetrators deserve consistent and appropriate punishment. The death penalty plays into society's worst instinct of revenge. Its imposition is arbitrary, racially biased, and biased against the poor. There will always be the possibility of executing the innocent. Lastly, the death penalty is not the answer for victims of violence.
Robert J. O'Connell: Through the pain of losing three female family members in an arson murder, Mr. O'Connell never wished for the death of the perpetrator. The scales of justice could never be balanced for his loss.
Connecticut NAACP, President Scot X. Esdaile: Mr. Esdaile stresses that repeal of the death penalty is one of the CT NAACP's top priorities this legislative session. Among other problems, the death penalty system places greater value on white victims over black victims. The legislature has tinkered with the death penalty for decades and failed, enough is enough.
CT Bar Association, Sherwood Anderson: The Human Rights and Responsibilities section, not the CT Bar Association as a whole, supports abolition of the death penalty in Connecticut for those presently awaiting execution and those who are presently charged or in the future may be charged with capital felonies; and supports a maximum penalty for capital felonies in all cases to be life imprisonment or confinement without the possibility of release.
Sr. Mary Healy: Sister Healy's brother was killed in a shooting at a local Burger King in March of 2000. It was a capital case but she found no solace in the death sentence imposed on her brother's killer. The system focused not on healing or other needs of victims' families, but on the case and the trial. The death penalty process forces victims' families into a fight that can't be won. It would be better to take the money wasted on the death penalty process and apply it to help crime victims. The death penalty does no benefit victims.
Sunny Khadjavi: Ms. Khadjavi is the daughter of a murdered father, whose case is still a “cold case” in that the police are no longer actively investigating it. Currently, due to budgetary constraints, the State's Attorney's officer will only be investigating approximately 16-20 of the over 900 cold cases in Connecticut. She is frustrated that we continue to spend millions on a death penalty system that affects so few families while there are hundreds of people desperate for answers to very basic questions about their case. While she still wants to know more about why her father was killed, she has never imagined that pursuing the death penalty would help her heal.
Western CT State University Asst. Professor of Legal Studies, Terrence Dwyer: Mr. Dwyer is an assistant professor of legal studies, an attorney, and a retired investigator from the NY State Police Violent Crimes Investigative Team. From a law enforcement perspective, the death penalty is not a deterrent. Police chiefs nationwide have assessed it as a low priority and put it on the bottom of their concerns for an effective criminal justice process. In Connecticut, the death penalty is an expensive fiction. The resources currently wasted on the death penalty can be better used to officer training and victim services.
Timothy Anderson: Mr. Anderson is a son, a parent, and a victim. He is a licensed social worker whose aunt was murdered. He feels that the death penalty is a barbaric method to deprive human life and that it is corrosive, affecting everything it touches including humanity. He was one of the jurors who sentenced Joshua Komisarjevsky to death and feels that what he did was morally and ethically wrong. He asks that the Legislature ensure that no juror has to do what he did.
CT Citizen Action Group, Executive Director Tom Swan: The CCAG board has overwhelmingly voted to support the repeal of the death penalty and to have Connecticut stand on the side of civilized societies. Innocent people are too often sentenced to death, the death penalty is not applied in a fair and just manner, and the death penalty is not a deterrent to criminal acts.
William Tuthill: Mr. Tuthill is the former Assistant Deputy Commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Corrections. He has worked as warden of multiple facilities and has worked at five correctional facilities during his over 22 years of service and feels that the death penalty is broken beyond repair. He feels it does not deter crime and that life in prison is an incredibly severe sentence, not the “walk in the park” that it is described as when compared to the death penalty.
NATURE AND SOURCES OF OPPOSITION:
Anonymous: This individual feels that the death penalty is a standard of justice that cannot be replaced by any other form of punishment. What is needed is an empowered death penalty because death is the only form of response that will cause criminals who commit heinous acts to recognize the depth of their aberrant and unacceptable behavior.
Gregg Pompei: Mr. Pompei believes that the death penalty needs to be streamlined and that it serves three important purposes. First is incapacitation, second is deterrence, and third is retribution.
Johanna Petit Chapman: Mrs. Chapman's sister-in-law and two nieces were brutally murdered and she believes that a prospective repeal does not exist. She believes that Connecticut needs to keep the death penalty for the most heinous murders. The risk of executing an innocent person does not hold true in Connecticut because the death penalty has the most extensive due process protections in United States criminal law. None of the men on death row are innocent, nor have we ever executed an innocent man in Connecticut. Life imprisonment is not worse than death because death is feared and life is preferred. Pope John Paul, in 1995, declared that “execution is appropriate to defend society.” She urges the legislature to send the message that CT is not soft on crime and wants the death penalty repaired, not repealed.
Kimberly Sundquist: The death penalty serves the process by encouraging criminals to make plea agreements, saving taxpayers millions in trial costs. The amount of appeals lawyers are allowed to file, however, should be limited so as not to delay the inevitable while making a mockery of the system. Additionally, Crimes involving domestic terrorism should be included in death eligible cases. Finally, 66% of Connecticut residents believe this bill should not pass.
Lisa Wilson Foley: Those who are elected to represent our interests must do their best to promote laws that are fair, predictable, and carried out with consistency. They must weigh what they feel is good and just while responding to and following the will of the people. The death penalty serves the public needs in a number of ways but its current form should be reformed so that it is not merely an exercise, but a sentence that can be carried out in the public interest.
Hartford Police Union, President Richard Holton: As president of the largest independent police union in the state, Sergeant Holton and his organization believes that violating society's laws must have consequences and that those consequences must fit the crime. When we do not punish criminals as they deserve to be punished we sow the seeds of anarchy and chaos, which results in individuals seeking justice by other means. The death penalty is about holding individuals accountable for their actions and protecting society from predators. The members of this union, along with two-thirds of the American public, are in favor of the death penalty. Life in prison is not a deterrent, the death penalty is.
Shanna York: Although Ms. York acknowledges some level of re-victimization occurring as a result of death penalty proceedings; she does not believe that should be enough of a reason to repeal the death penalty. The courts exist to punish people who have broken laws and no victim is going to find peace or healing in a courtroom, regardless of the sentence imposed. The state should reserve the right to kill a fellow citizen in order to ensure that the punishment fits the crime. Many arguments cite other states' problems with their death penalties. This is irrelevant. Not one of the 11 men on death row is innocent or has ever claimed innocence. She would love to live in a world without the death penalty and a world where people didn't kill each other. Because the latter will never happen, the former is necessary.
Robert Fromer: Mr. Fromer is not supporting or opposing the death penalty but urges that the standard of proof in capital cases be one of “absolute certainty.”
Reported by: Henry Rowland
Date: March 27, 2012