The repeal of the death penalty has produced some aftershocks. Of course, the real aftershocks will arrive after the next heinous murder, though it should be said that the multiple murders of Steven Hayes and Joshua Komisarjevsky have set a high bar.
These two worthies beat a husband with a baseball bat, tied him in the cellar of his house, forced his wife to draw out thousands of dollars from a bank, raped her, raped one of the daughters, tied both daughters to their beds, set fire to both, sprinkled the house with gasoline and murdered all inside but Dr. William Petit, who managed to escape and afterward demand the death penalty for Mr. Hayes and Mr. Komisarjevsky, readily granted to him by two separate juries. In Connecticut, death penalty cases require both a jury trial and a death penalty hearing.
Somewhat like Ishmael of Moby Dick fame, Mr. Petit was a lone survivor, a rather chatty one, determined to seek justice for his wrecked Pequod. Anti-death penalty proponents found it difficult to empathize with Dr. Pettis’ thirst for justice, but they could not do other than to sympathize with his plight.
State Senator Edith Prague, long an opponent of the death penalty, sympathized enough to change her consistent vote against the death penalty, frustrating an earlier attempt to abolish it. Mrs. Prague emerged from a private conversation with Mr. Petit and pronounced the following doom upon Joshua Komisarjevsky, one of the two murderers, rapists and arsonists: He should be hung "by his penis from a tree out in the middle of Main Street.'' After the trials and sentences were imposed, the inertia of Mrs. Prague’s office as a reliable vote for abolition gave her second thoughts, and she voted in favor of a morally indefensible bill that abolished the death penalty prospectively, retaining it for the 11 prisoners awaiting death on death row.
The prospective abolition of the death penalty provided a political trap door for politicians who wanted – for all the wrong reasons – to abolish the death penalty without opening themselves to charges they were indifferent to Mr. Petit’s unfortunate ordeal. The juridical problem of executing in the future 11 men in the absence of a law authorizing execution was of little concern to the cowards in the legislature, many of them lawyers, who voted in favor of a partial, self-lapsing abolition that would cost them fewer lost votes.
Theoretically, it is possible to extend to murderers who commit heinous crimes a balm of mercy, sequestering them in prison for life without possibility of parole, a stiff punishment said by some to be worse than execution, but there are, after all, limits to mercy. It proved politically difficult for opponents of the death penalty to abolish capital punishment for the 11 men who actually, not theoretically, had committed heinous murders. The entire so called “debate” on abolition of the death penalty in the General Assembly was pushed forward by theoretical bullies. Theoretically, it is possible for an innocent man to be found guilty of felony murder – but this has not happened in Connecticut in the past half century, and no one in the General Assembly would vouch for the innocence of the two murderers tried, found guilty and executed within that time period. So with most of the other arguments put forward in the General Assembly favoring abolition, most of them addressed in Connecticut Commentary.
The argumentative structure for abolition was little more than an elaborate theoretical Potemkin Village. Theoretically, all the houses and factories look like houses and factories; but no one can live or work in the structures because they are mere facades, theoretical constructs that allow legislators to abolish capital punishment and then execute men in the absence of a law prescribing death as a punishment for their crimes. In the real non-theoretical world, such actions of a lawless state would be called murder. In the real world, the abolitionists began by decrying just sentences as “state murder” and have ended by sanctioning state murder.
The theoretical has become the real, and the real has become the theoretical. This is what happens when professors and lawyers rather than shoemakers and chimney sweepers become legislators. It is why Bill Buckley used to say that he would rather be governed by the first hundred people picked at random from the phone book than the faculty of Harvard law school.
Republican endorsed candidate for the U.S. House seat in the 5th District Andrew Roraback wandered into this mare’s nest when he reversed his position on abolition and, surprising some, Mr. Petit among them, voted against the abolition bill. However, not all flips in politics are flops among the cognescenti. Wasn’t Mr. Roraback giving Dr. Petit exactly what he wanted, asked one liberal columnist?
No, thought Dr. Petit, roaring back at Roraback, “When we met with Sen. Roraback, we respected his initial position to oppose the Death Penalty. His comments Wednesday, in our minds, cast doubt on whether Sen. Roraback has any core convictions on important issues.”
Mr. Roraback voted against the bill, he said, not because he wanted to flip on an issue that was unpopular with Republicans delegates poised to vote for or against him in the nominating convention, but rather because the bill was a transparent fraud.
On a third vote by delegates at the Republican Party nominating convention, Mr. Roraback was chosen as the nominee for the 5th District Congressional by a very slender margin over his opponent Lisa Wilson-Foley, who had brushed up against the Democrat’s favorite tar baby, former Governor-And-Felon John Rowland.
Unlike former State-Senator-And-Felon-Ernie-Newton, who spent three years in the clinker for accepting bribes and is now running for his old seat in Bridgeport, Mr. Rowland, a conservative radio commentator, has yet to offer himself as Republican Party candidate for office. None of the tar from the Newton baby has rubbed off on Democratic politicians in the state, and the silence issuing from the moral epigones now roasting Mr. Rowland is deafening.