Editorial: End Capital Punishment Now

The Connecticut Law Tribune

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The first week of January 2014 saw the beginning of the penalty phase hearing in Bridgeport Superior Court in the Roszkowski case. This is the case where the defendant has been convicted of three murders including that of a 9-year-old girl. He was originally sentenced to death by a jury, but due to a penalty phase instructional error the trial judge overturned the death sentence and ordered a new penalty phase proceeding.

After months of jury selection this past fall, the evidentiary portion of the penalty phase lasted for three weeks in January, only to be continued from Jan. 21 until Feb. 3, to give prosecutors time to examine 1,000 pages of documents the defense intends to use in presenting its case.

In the spring of 2012 the Connecticut legislature abolished the death penalty. Well, sort of. The legislation only abolished capital punishment prospectively, leaving those already sentenced to death and sitting on death row, and those facing prosecution for crimes committed prior to its' enactment still eligible to receive a sentence of death by execution.

While we recognize that the Cheshire home invasion murder case affected the legislative posture in regard to the application of capital punishment in Connecticut, it seems ludicrous to continue on this path. Now that we as a state and community have decided to eliminate capital punishment from our range of penalties, it's time to end this divisive debate once and for all.

Expenses continue to accumulate on behalf of those remaining on death row that are pursuing a variety of post conviction remedies, including appeals, habeas corpus petitions in state and federal courts, race and geographical disparity claims, and more. The continued prosecution of capital felony eligible crimes, such as the Roszkowski case, further the total waste of scarce state resources desperately needed in so many areas of the criminal justice system. Given the posture of the Roszkowski case, had the state not proceeded with this death wish, the court would have been obligated to impose a sentence of life without the possibility of release, given the jury's finding of guilt on capital felony. Is this not enough, now that we have done away with capital punishment?

We often need to select a cutoff date for the application of new laws, but the legal requisites for setting such a date in the capital felony context is problematic. In the early 1970s, the U.S. Supreme Court in Furman v. Georgia struck down capital punishment in the United States based on statutes across the country that were in affect arbitrary and capricious. What could be more arbitrary and capricious than saying that as of a date certain, we as a state will no longer subject anyone to the death penalty in the future, but continue to seek execution for those who committed capital crimes in the past?

We say enough is enough. Prohibit the enforcement of capital punishment for all in our state. We will all be the better for it.•

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