The Connecticut Supreme Court is to hear arguments on the current death penalty legislation within the state. Connecticut repealed their death penalty in 2012, but retained it for those who had already been sentenced to death. Therefore the repeal only covered capital crimes committed after 24th April 2012 leaving 11 men on the state’s death row still facing execution.

Lawyers for Eduardo Santiago’s claim that the execution of the remaining 11 men on death row will be unconstitutional. Santiago was sentenced to death for the 2000 capital felony and murder of a West Hartford man, Joseph Nowinski, in exchange for a snowmobile. He had been condemned to die on 31st January 2005, however, the Connecticut Supreme Court overturned Santiago’s death sentence on 4th June 2012, and ruled that the trial judge had failed to disclose “significant and relevant” mitigating evidence for jury consideration when they had decided to send Santiago to death row in 2005. The court let Santiago’s conviction stand and ordered a new penalty trial. With Santiago having been found guilty of the crime prior to the death penalty repeal of 2012 he is therefore still eligible for a death sentence.

Public Defender Mark Rademacher argued that to make a distinction between the doomed and the spared, based only on the repeal’s enactment date was arbitrary, irrational and unconstitutional under the Eighth Amendment which prohibits cruel and unusual punishment.

Senior Assistant State’s Attorney Harry Weller, defended the legislation stating that whichever way the Connecticut Supreme Court decides the case, the state has to win in the end: “There are only two possible outcomes to this case before this court, and neither of them gets the defendant what he wants. What he wants is the abolition of the death penalty, and not to face another penalty hearing. He gets neither of those, regardless of what this court does.”

Andrew Schneider, of the American Civil Liberties of Connecticut questioned, “why should one class of inmates who committed horrible crimes be subject to the death penalty and other people who committed equally horrible crimes are not? There’s a fundamental justice problem right there.”

Rademacher has argued that a single arbitrary date should not be the basis for deciding who lives and who dies. Perhaps the real difficulty in this case is that the Connecticut Supreme Court cannot remove the 24th April 2012 date without causing the entire statute to become null and void. There is therefore the real possibility that even if Santiago and his attorney, Rademacher, win the battle of Santiago’s appeal, they may in fact end up losing the war by having the legislature’s death penalty repeal set aside returning Connecticut to a state where the death penalty becomes an active form of punishment for new capital crimes. We will likely have to wait sometime as a decision in a complex legal issue such as this has been known to take a year or more.

The 10 other men still on death row in Connecticut are Jessie Campbell III, Robert Breton Sr., Sedrick “Ricky” Cobb, Russell Peeler Jr., Richard Reynolds, Daniel Webb, Todd Rizzo, Lazale Delane Ashby, Steven Hayes, Joshua Komisarjevsky.

Disclaimer: The views expressed are those of the writer and this article does not constitute legal advice.

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