[You should've seen the alternate title I had lined up for this post: Death's Final Countdown.]
In the early morning hours of April 11, 2012, the people of Connecticut, through their elected legislature, decided that they would no longer permit their own to be put to death with the imprimatur of official state action. For those like me, who are abolitionists, it was only half a victory: the measure was prospective only. So while we rejoiced, we did so with caution and measure, because there were still 11 men who could be executed by the State and at least two more who could legally join them on death row.
Even before the ink that formed the Governor’s signature on the “repeal” bill was dry, chatter was building that there would soon be a push to make the repeal retrospective as well. Despite the clear language that this piece of legislation applied only to future crimes, many were skeptical that such a measure could pass constitutional muster. After all, what is more “arbitrary and capricious” than deciding who lives and dies based on a date?
Soon, we will find out if those skeptics were indeed correct. The Connecticut Supreme Court has granted a motion for reconsideration in the death penalty appeal of Eduardo Santiago (who was one of the 11 on death row, but whose death sentence the Supreme Court reversed [PDF] on other grounds in June). Instead of going straight to another penalty phase hearing, Santiago’s lawyer asked the Supreme Court to rule whether the death penalty is even a legal option in his case, given the repeal. The Supreme Court agreed to do so.
There’s also a similar motion pending in the case of Richard Rozkowski, who’s currently awaiting another penalty phase hearing. I wouldn’t be surprised if that were joined with the Santiago appeal at some point.
Meanwhile, the trial of the death penalty on charges of racial and geographic bias continues undeterred this week, despite the abomination that is McCleskey. Professor John C. Donohue’s study here in CT isn’t the only one to find great bias in the application of the death penalty. See this recent paper on a study of one county in California.
Frankly, the conclusion that the death penalty needs to be taken off life support is inescapable to me when viewed the prism of stories like that of Terrance Williams, where 5 jurors signed a letter stating that they were unaware that the alternative to death was life without the possibility of release; or that of Robert Wayne Holsey, whose lead attorney confessed that he drank a quart of vodka every day during the trial, and yet the 11th Circuit upheld [PDF] the death sentence, because nothing would’ve made a difference.
Will it be taken off life support? Or will it be allowed to live, weakened, cowering in a corner, yet poisonous and infecting us all? We’ll find out soon enough.