Connecticut Supreme Court ditches death penalty. (UPDATED)

Today the Connecticut Supreme Court spared the lives of eleven death-row inmates by narrowly ruling that the state's capital-punishment law was unconstitutional. A 2012 statute repealed capital punishment for future crimes—but not for crimes committed before the date the law was enacted. (The legislature passed an identical bill in 2009, but then-Governor Jodi Rell, a Republican, vetoed it. Three years later, her successor Dannel Malloy, a Democrat, signed an updated version into law.) The court took up the case when Eduardo Santiago, sentenced to death for killing a man in 2000, challenged the law.

New Mexico and Maryland enacted similar bans on the death penalty for future crimes, and late last year Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) commuted the sentences of Maryland's death-row inmates (they'll spend the rest of their lives in jail). This happened in New Jersey five years ago, in Illinois four years ago, and in Nebraska earlier this year.

"This state’s death penalty no longer comports with contemporary standards of decency and no longer serves any legitimate penological purpose," according to Associate Justice Richard Palmer, who wrote for the majority. "For these reasons, execution of those offenders who committed capital felonies prior to April 25, 2012, would violate the state constitutional prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment." With that, the Court effectively ended capital punishment in Connecticut.

The state hadn't executed anyone since 2005, when the notorious serial killer Michael Ross, who became Catholic after his arrest, finally received the punishment he had wanted for so long. He believed God had forgiven him.

UPDATE: The Connecticut Catholic Conference issued the following statement in response to the Supreme Court's decision:

The Bishops of Connecticut have long supported the repeal of the death penalty based upon the teaching of the Church regarding the sanctity of life.  Accordingly, the Catholic Conference was a very active participant in a coalition to end capital punishment in our state.

The Conference supported the repeal of the death penalty in 2009; during that Session of the General Assembly, a bill passed the House and the Senate and was subsequently vetoed by Gov. Rell.

In 2011, another bill was raised in the Senate regarding the death penalty.  However, when the proponents of the measure lacked a majority to pass this legislation, the bill was never called.  The following year - in 2012 - the issue of the death penalty was raised again and, with an amendment excluding the 11 current inmates on death row from the proposed legislation, the repeal of the death penalty passed on April 21, 2012.

On August 13, 2015, the Connecticut Supreme Court ruled that the death penalty, as passed by the legislature, is unconstitutional, and the Conference concurs with this decision in accordance with the teaching of the Church.  However, first and foremost, the Conference is also very cognizant of the victims and their families…and our thoughts and prayers are with them as they deal with what must be a very difficult period.

Grant Gallicho joined Commonweal as an intern and was an associate editor for the magazine until 2015. 

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