"Death Penalty Bias Case Put On Hold," is Alaine Griffin's report in today's Hartford Courant.
The landmark case that challenges the death sentences of five of Connecticut's 10 death-row inmates based on racial and geographic bias was put on hold Wednesday because one of the expert witnesses is scheduled to travel out of the country.
Judge Samuel J. Sferrazza halted testimony in the trial's 13th day, saying evidence would resume later this month with additional witnesses and again in November when Stanford Law School Professor John J. Donohue III is expected to return from Italy.
Last month, Donohue – the inmates' key witness – testified that there are "strikingly large" disparities along racial and geographic lines when it comes to death penalty prosecutions in Connecticut. Attorneys for the inmates are planning to bring Donohue back to the witness stand.
The hiatus in the trial means the convicted killers - Sedrick Cobb, Todd Rizzo, Daniel Webb, Robert Breton Sr. and Richard Reynolds – may not know Sferrazza's decision on whether their death sentences should be overturned until the end of the year or early next year.
Battling experts' complex testimony – accompanied by numerical charts and tables – is at the heart of the case, which dates back two decades when Cobb first raised racial bias claims after he was sentenced to death for the 1989 rape and murder of 23-year-old Julia Ashe of Watertown.
The trial began last month in an improvised courtroom in a prison dayroom at Northern Correctional Institution in Somers, where death row is housed. The inmates, with their wrists and ankles shackled, sat with their attorneys during testimony.
Most of the testimony has come from Donohue and the state's expert, Stephan Michelson.
Donohue used his analysis of 4,700 murders in the state from 1973 to 2007 to bolster the inmates' claims that death sentences are influenced by race and geography instead of solely on the egregiousness of the crime and the culpability of the defendant.
Earlier coverage of the Connecticut racial bias trial begins at the line.