Capital Punishment in the United States Explained

In our Explainer series, Fair Punishment Project lawyers help unpackage some of the most complicated issues in the criminal justice system. We break down the problems behind the headlines - like bail, civil asset forfeiture, or the Brady doctrine - so that everyone can understand them. Wherever possible, we try to utilize the stories of those affected by the criminal justice system to show how these laws and principles should work, and how they often fail. We will update our Explainers monthly to keep them current. Read our updated explainer here.
To beat the clock on the expiration of its lethal injection drug supply, this past April, Arkansas tried to execute 8 men over 1 days. The stories told in frantic legal filings and clemency petitions revealed a deeply disturbing picture. Ledell Lee may have had an intellectual disability that rendered him constitutionally ineligible for the death penalty, but he had a spate of bad lawyers who failed to timely present evidence of this claim -…

Connecticut: Steven Hayes First Death-Row Inmate Resentenced to Life

Steven Hayes
Steven Hayes
NEW HAVEN >> Superior Court Judge Jon C. Blue scolded Steven Hayes for “the depravity of your character” Wednesday as he vacated the death sentence originally imposed in the Cheshire triple-homicide and resentenced him to six consecutive life terms in prison with no chance of parole.

Hayes was convicted in 2010; co-defendant Joshua Komisarjevsky was convicted in 2011. A Superior Court jury in New Haven convicted Hayes on many counts, including murder, first-degree kidnapping and first-degree sexual assault.

Komisarjevsky also was found guilty of murder and numerous other counts in the deaths of Jennifer Hawke-Petit and her daughters, Michaela, 11, and Hayley, 17. Both men received death sentences but the state Supreme Court last year ruled the death penalty isunconstitutional.

Komisarjevsky is scheduled to receive a sentence similar to that of Hayes next month.

Hayes and Komisarjevsky broke into the Petit house at about 3 a.m. July 23, 2007, and beat Dr. William Petit Jr. on the head with a baseball bat as he was lying on a couch in the sunroom downstairs. They tied him up in the basement. Then the perpetrators tied the girls and their mother to beds upstairs.

Later that morning, Hayes forced Hawke-Petit to drive with him to her bank and withdraw $15,000. Shortly after they returned to the house, Hayes raped and strangled her and one of the two perpetrators applied a match to gasoline that had been spread throughout the home. The girls died upstairs in the fire.

Petit was able to escape from the basement and crawl out of the house to seek help from a neighbor minutes before the fire erupted. Hayes and Komisarjevsky crashed the Petit vehicle into a police barricade nearby as they fled and were apprehended.

Petit, who testified during both trials and spoke at length and with great emotion about his family during the sentencings, was not in the courtroom Wednesday.

Senior Assistant State’s Attorney Gary Nicholson, who prosecuted both defendants during their trials alongside State’s Attorney Michael Dearington (who recently retired), explained Petit’s decision not to appear.

“I spoke to Dr. Petit about a week ago,” Nicholson told Blue. “He said he did not wish to take the opportunity as a victim to appear in court and make a statement. He said none of his other family members would be here. They’ve already said what they cared to say.”

Nicholson said he, too, had already said what he needed to say during the trials and sentencings. But he added that for “this horrendous crime, we ask for consecutive sentences, for the maximum sentence.”

Hayes, who now has a long beard and was wearing a yarmulke because of his religious conversion in prison, nodded and smiled at the reporters in the courtroom who covered his trial. He is much thinner than he was when he committed his crimes.

When Blue gave Hayes a chance to speak, he declined to do so. His attorney, New Haven Public Defender Thomas Ullmann, who defended Hayes during the trial, also refrained from making a statement.

Blue, who presided over both of the trials, told Hayes as he stood before him, “I think the jury verdict spoke eloquently and the Petit family spoke quite eloquently. With the gravity of these crimes and the depravity of your character, nothing more needs to be said.”

One by one, Blue handled each of the 16 original counts on which Hayes had been convicted. He began by vacating the three murder counts. He did this because a U.S. Supreme Court ruling specified this should be done with lesser included offenses of capital counts. Thus Blue also vacated the first-degree sexual assault count.

But Blue imposed sentences of life in prison without parole for murder with multiple victims, murder of a victim under 16, three counts of murder of a victim of a kidnapping and murder of a victim of sexual assault.

In addition, Blue imposed 25-year sentences for each of four first-degree kidnapping counts, five years for third-degree burglary and one year for second-degree assault.

Because Blue made all of the sentences consecutive rather than concurrent, he noted the total is six consecutive sentences of life without possibility of parole, “followed by 106 years.”

Immediately after court adjourned, a reporter asked Nicholson if he had imagined being back in court on such a procedure. “Not this quickly,” Nicholson replied. “It is what it is.”

Asked about Dearington’s decision not to come to the courtroom for the resentencing, Nicholson said, “He’s probably on a beach somewhere. I’m sure he’s enjoying his retirement.”

Also after court adjourned, Ullmann noted Hayes’ convictions are being appealed. Although Ullmann is not handling the appeal, he did note one of the grounds for it: on the second day of the trial, one of the jurors told Blue he didn’t like the way the prosecutors were presenting their case. The defense team wanted him to remain on the jury but Blue dismissed him.

A hearing was held recently in the case against Komisarjevsky, who claims that key withheld information about the Cheshire police response should be considered as his attorneys appeal his conviction. They are calling for a new trial.

The state Supreme Court also eventually will rule on whether Komisarjevsky deserves a new trial because of newly raised appeals issues, such as his original defense team not seeing all of the Cheshire police dispatch tapes from the day of the crime.

Ullmann called Hayes’ resentencing “a momentous and historic day.” He explained, “The first person who was sentenced to death is now sentenced to life without possibility of release.” Ten other men who have been on death row await resentencings.

Ullmann added, “It’s a relief for many of us lawyers who have worked on this for so long, to see the elimination of this barbaric punishment from our laws.”

Ullmann said he had “never lost faith” that this day would come. But he added, “I wasn’t sure that in my lifetime I’d see this happen.”

He noted, “Connecticut has joined the movement where our whole nation is getting to, ultimately to eliminate the death penalty across the country. We’re getting to the point where it’s close to being abolished totally.” Nineteen states have eliminated capital punishment.

Ullmann pointed out the only person put to death in Connecticut in recent decades was serial killer Michael Ross in 2005, because he “volunteered” to be killed; he dropped his appeals.

“So the state never achieved getting somebody executed against their will,” Ullmann said. “It was an incredibly failed criminal justice policy. The costs to the state were enormous. This money could have been used for victims and treatment programs.”

Ullmann, who joined a vigil of capital punishment opponents outside the prison when Ross was executed, said, “It’s such a relief to me not to ever have to attend (witness) an execution. We’ve moved forward in our criminal justice system.”

Ullmann declined to reveal what Hayes said to him after the resentencing. As for Hayes’ yarmulke, Ullmann said, “He’s been practicing the Jewish faith for quite some time. He sees a rabbi in prison. He’s pretty principled about that.”

Ullmann also addressed the question of Hayes’ mental state, especially given his suicide attempt during jury selection. “I’ve tried to talk him out of suicide. We’ve spent a lot of time doing that.”

And so is Hayes now on a better path? “I would say it fluctuates,” Ullmann replied. “Life on death row was not pleasant.”

During an interview with the New Haven Register in Northern Correctional Institution in September 2013, Hayes expressed remorse for what he had done. Facing the possibility of execution at that time, he said, “Death for me will be a welcome relief and I hope it will bring some peace and comfort to those who I have hurt so much.”

Source: New Haven Register, Randall Beach, June 15, 2016

Convicted Killer 1st Death-Row Inmate Resentenced to Life

1 of 2 men sentenced to death for the slayings of a mother and her 2 daughters during a 2007 home invasion in Connecticut has been resentenced to life in prison.

Steven Hayes is the 1st of 11 death-row inmates to be resentenced since the Connecticut Supreme Court ruled in August that their sentences violated the state constitution's prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment.

State lawmakers abolished Connecticut's death penalty in 2012, except for those already sentenced to death.

A judge on Wednesday imposed six consecutive life sentences on Hayes for the murders of Jennifer Hawke-Petit and her daughters, 17-year-old Haley and 11-year-old Michaela, in Cheshire.

Hawke-Petit's husband and the girls' father, Dr. William Petit, was badly beaten but survived.

He didn't immediately respond to a message seeking comment Wednesday.

Source: Associated Press, June 15, 2016

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