Saturday, December 10, 2011

The Courant And Connecticut’s Death Penalty

The editorial board of the Hartford Courant, Connecticut’s only state-wide newspaper, waited patiently until a penalty hearing jury brought in a finding that Joshua Komisarjevsky must die by lethal injection before getting into print, only hours later, an editorial demanding the abolition of the state’s death penalty.

The editorial is only incidentally related to the case at hand, and very likely portions of it were written long before a jury of his peers decided that Mr. Komisarjevsky should be executed. It is an all-purpose declaration, suitable in every death penalty case, a suit of arguments that will fit any body of evidence.

For instance, the editorial points to “endless reviews and appeals,” not at all uncommon in death penalty cases, and laments that both Mr. Komisarjevsky and Steven Hayes, earlier condemned to death by a different jury for the same crime, the murder of three women in Cheshire, “are more likely to die of old age before they are executed.”

This is true enough. There are a number of people on Connecticut’s death row whose seemingly endless appeals have so far have forestalled their execution. The gap between the commission of a murder in Connecticut, a trial, a second penalty phase trial and the execution of a death sentence is uncommonly long, bridged by seemingly endless appeals. The paper asks whether these “agonizing and expensive trials accomplish anything?”

The answer the paper is angling for is – No. Since the capital felony process in Connecticut can be subverted by seemingly endless appeals, the state should throw up its hands, concede that its death penalty is unworkable, and abolish a procedure that is unworkable, expensive, immoral and inherently unjust. The death penalty is unjust, according the editors of the Hartford Courant, because it is rooted in revenge and subject to misapplication.

Most of these objections are all purpose caveats. Each one of them begins to collapse once they are applied to the Komisarjevsky-Hayes case.

There is no question of a misapplication of the death penalty in the Komisarjevsky-Hayes multiple murder case. There is not a single member of the editorial board of the Hartford Courant who could argue persuasively before a jury of third graders that either Mr. Komisarjevsky or Mr. Hayes did not commit the crimes of which they have been accused. And while it may be argued that somewhere in the world the death penalty is even now being misapplied, that datum simply has no bearing on the Cheshire murder case.

The notion that the Komisarjevsky jury, which returned a verdict of guilty and later found in a separate penalty hearing trial that the multiple murderer should suffer execution, was motivated by vengeance is a howler that even a shameless comic would hesitate to drag on stage; this kind of special pleading, bordering on demagoguery, just ain’t funny. Vengeance, as a general, rule is swift and inexpensive; it dispenses with costly trials and retrials. Vengeance does not empanel juries to decide questions of innocence or guilty. It does not resort to penalty hearing trials. It is emotional and not deliberative. It occurs most often out of the presence of juries, judges, defense attorneys and prosecutors. These processes bear no relation to murder, and people who argue that the death penalty appropriately applied is “judicial murder,” some of them lawyers, do not understand the meaning of the word “murder” or the word “judicial” or the word “is.”

“When the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty, it was with the hope that it could be administered impartially,” Courant editors write. “There is much evidence that this hope has not been met.”

No kidding?

Connecticut has executed two people in the last fifty years. Where is the evidence in either case that the death penalty in Connecticut has been administered in a partial, unjust manner? There is no such evidence.

Once the baby is thrown out with the wash water, the baby is irrecoverable. We are to abolish the death penalty because opponents of the death penalty have been successful in so prolonging the gap between non-vengeful conviction and the application of death sentences as to make capital punishment expensive and harrowing for the family victims of multiple murderers such as Komisarjevsky and Hayes. This is the real argument against capital punishment in Connecticut.

Abolition proponents who are legislators have yet to tell their constituents what punishment they would recommend in the case of a convicted murder serving a life sentence who commits a second murder in prison, or whether they think a terrorist who successfully kills hundreds of people should be spared the indignity of a non-vengeful and just public execution.

Someone should ask them.
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