"State Supreme Court To Consider If Death Penalty Repeal Should Affect Current Cases," is Alaine Griffin's breaking news report in the Hartford Courant.
The state Supreme Court has agreed to take up the issue of whether the recent repeal of Connecticut's death penalty can apply only to future crimes.
In a ruling Thursday, the state's highest court granted a request by Eduardo Santiago, whose death sentence was overturned in June, for written briefs and arguments on a legal filing that raises questions about the repeal's impact on those who committed capital crimes before the new law was passed.
The new law abolishes the death penalty for future capital crimes committed in Connecticut but allows executions for those who committed similar crimes before April, when the repeal took effect.
Thursday's ruling was issued as five of the 11 inmates on Connecticut's death row continue to fight their death sentences in a landmark habeas corpus trial being held at Northern Correctional Institution in Somers where death row is housed. The issue in that case is whether the death penalty has been implemented in a racially and geographically biased way.It was not known early Friday whether Thursday's ruling would affect the trial.
Before the trial began, the inmates tried unsuccessfully to raise the issue of the repeal's impact on their death sentences. The judge said claims stemming from the repeal raise legal questions distinct from the evidence being presented at the habeas trial.
The Supreme Court on Thursday gave attorneys for Santiago until Nov. 13 to file briefs. The state will then have 60 days to respond. A hearing could be held sometime early next year.
Courant reporter Griffin has been covering the racial bias trial. Her latest article is, "Witness: "Strikingly Large" Disparities In Death Penalty Cases."
A key witness for five death row inmates challenging the fairness of their death sentences testified Wednesday that there are "strikingly large" disparities along racial and geographic lines when it comes to the death penalty in Connecticut.
Stanford Law Prof. John J. Donohue III testified that minority defendants whose victims were white were three times more likely to receive a death sentence than white defendants whose victims were white.
Donohue reviewed 205 death-eligible cases in Connecticut from 1973 to 2007, including 141 in which the defendants were charged with capital felony, which made execution possible.
Where defendants are prosecuted is significant, too, Donohue testified, saying that one judicial district stood out - Waterbury. Those eligible for death there were sentenced at much higher rates than defendants tried elsewhere in state, he testified.
Donohue said former Waterbury State's Attorney John A. Connelly was "outspoken" about the death penalty and he was "criticized for his overzealousness." So, Donohue said, "looking at Waterbury was a natural thing to do."
In Waterbury, between 1973 and 2007, of the 12 death penalty eligible cases that were examined, four resulted in a death sentence, for a 33.3 percent rate. During that time, there were 193 death eligible cases in other areas of the state that were examined. Of those, five, or 2.6 percent, resulted in a death sentence.
Both Waterbury cases in which the defendant was a minority and the victim was white resulted in death sentences. In the rest of the state, two of 32 cases in which the defendant was a minority and the victim was white resulted in a death sentence, for a rate of 6.3 percent.
Donohue said he looked closely at the "egregiousness" or atrociousness of each crime, identifying the number of victims, who the victims were, how much a victim suffered and the culpability of the defendant. He said he concluded that the administration of the death penalty in Connecticut does not correspond to the egregiousness of the crime.
You can also view the abstract of John Donohue's study, Capital Punishment in Connecticut, 1973-2007: A Comprehensive Evaluation from 4686 Murders to One Execution.