april 7 , source : http://www.thedailybeast.com
Can you call it abolition if you’re still executing people? David R. Dow considers Connecticut’s hair-splitting new law, and wonders whether our focus on innocence is to blame.
On the website of The New York Times, there’s an old photo of a man named William Petit standing next to his wife, Jennifer, and their two daughters, Hayley and Michaela, 17 and 11. They look peaceful and content, a portrait of happiness
Dr. Petit is the only one of the four still alive. On Aug. 6, 2007, his wife and daughters were brutally murdered in their Cheshire, Connecticut home. The manner of their shocking deaths helps explain an otherwise bizarre development: The Connecticut legislature is going to abolish the death penalty, but not until the Petit killers are put to death.
In a crime so chilling that even some death-penalty opponents I know reconsidered their opposition, Steven Hayes and Joshua Komisarjevsky entered the Petit house at three in the morning. They beat Dr. Petit unconscious with a baseball bat, tied him up in the basement, and went upstairs. There, Hayes raped Jennifer while Komisarjevsky attacked Michaela. The men strangled Jennifer to death and tied the girls to their beds. Then they set the house on fire.
With his legs still bound, Dr. Petit broke out of the basement and stumbled across the yard. He screamed to his neighbor for help. Twelve hours later, Hayes and Komisarjevsky were under arrest. Connecticut juries sentenced both men to death.
And now they are the last two men to be sentenced to death in the state, because last week, by a vote of 20 to 16, the Connecticut Senate voted to abolish the death penalty. The bill will now move to the House, where it is certain to pass, before being signed by Gov. Daniel Malloy.
Yet Hayes and Komisarjevsky, along with nine other inmates, remain on Connecticut’s death row, their sentences unaffected by the new law. How can that be? How is it possible for a legislature to decide that the death penalty should be eliminated, but only after we first execute 11 more men?
The morality of the death penalty has nothing to do with error. It is not even about deterrence; and for most people, it is not about cost. It is about belief.
I believe the answer to that question has to do with two troubling features of the modern anti-death-penalty movement. The first is the excessive reliance on the concept of innocence. The second is the often tepid, tone-deaf response from the abolitionist community to unspeakable crimes like the one that destroyed the Petit family.
The innocence revolution—driven largely by advances in DNA analysis—has been undeniably dramatic. Forty-four states now have innocence projectsdevoted to identifying and helping gain the release of innocent prisoners. Nationwide, nearly three hundred men have walked out of prison exonerated, after DNA proved beyond question we sent the wrong man to jail.
And as these cases began to permeate the public consciousness, death-penalty opponents seized on them as a tactic: None of those 289 exonerated inmates, they said, would have been released if he had been executed. The possibility of error became the central argument in the abolitionist brief.
Measured along one metric, the tactic has paid off: When the most recent abolition becomes official, Connecticut will be the fifth state in the past five years (along with New York, New Jersey, New Mexico, and Illinois) to have repealed the death penalty.
But that metric does not tell the full story. Connecticut has not actually executed anyone since Michael Ross, who waived his appeals, was put to death almost seven years ago. Before Ross, the state had not executed anyone in more than 30 years. In Illinois, New York, New Jersey, and New Mexico, there were a combined 26 people on death row when capital punishment was stricken from the books.
In contrast, in the remaining death penalty states, more than three thousand men await execution.
With Connecticut now on the abolition side of the ledger, only 10 of the 33 states with a death penalty have executed someone in the past five years. Meanwhile, Texas alone has executed nearly half the people put to death in America since 2007 (102 out of 232).
- Connecticut Senate votes to abolish death penalty – Fox News (foxnews.com)
- Connecticut on track to abolish death penalty (hosted.ap.org)