Connecticut Supreme Court Rules Death Penalty Unconstitutional, All 11 Death Row Inmates Will Live

The Connecticut Supreme Court, in a narrow decision, voted Thursday to end the death penalty completely, even for the 11 inmates who are on death row. The Supreme Court’s 4-to-3 decision means that two convicted murderers in the horrific and brutal killing of a doctor’s wife and his two young daughters in Cheshire in 2007 will not be executed.

A previous act passed in 2012 said that no death sentences could be imposed in new cases. That left already-sentenced death row prisoners like Steven Hayes, Joshua Komisarjevsky, and nine others to face lethal injection, barring any successful appeals.

The death penalty decision by the Connecticut Supreme Court was praised by many groups, including Amnesty International, Equal Justice USA, and the ACLU. The ACLU filed an amicus brief in 2013 arguing that the state should not apply the death penalty retroactively.

Brian Stull of the ACLU’s Capital Punishment Project gave his reaction to the Supreme Court decision as he spoke with the Connecticut Law Tribune.

“I think it’s fantastic. The decision applies in Connecticut but the reasoning applies everywhere where states are still involved in the failed experiment of capital punishment.”

In the majority opinion, Justice Richard N. Palmer cited the discriminatory nature of capital punishment in the United States.

“Legal scholars have provided new understandings of the original meaning of the constitutional prohibition against cruel and unusual punishments. Social scientists repeatedly have confirmed that the risk of capital punishment falls disproportionately on people of color and other disadvantaged groups.”

The Connecticut Capital Defense Unit’s head Michael Courtney told the Hartford Courant that the men could be moved out of death row as soon as late August.

“Now they should be treated like any other inmates. They should go into the general population,” said Courtney.

According to the New York Times, the landmark Connecticut Supreme Court death penalty decision gave rise to sad memories for state residents. Many remembered the barbaric murders in affluent Cheshire in 2007. A mother and her young daughters were burned alive in the home invasion. The two men convicted of the crime were sentenced to death, but the new Supreme Court ruling means their sentences will now likely be changed to life without parole.

A poll taken in 2012 showed that about half of Connecticut residents still wanted to see convicted killers get the death sentence.

Dr. William A. Petit Jr., who was beaten and forced to go to a bank machine while his wife and daughters were held hostage, feels the Connecticut Supreme Court has made a bad ruling and has not given enough consideration to the feelings of victims’ families.

Although the U.S. Supreme Court hasn’t yet abolished capital punishment, there have been recent opinions by the Court that indicate that some Supreme Court justices may consider the death penalty unconstitutional. Many people think that the Connecticut Supreme Court’s death penalty ruling may have a ripple effect across the country.

[Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images]