Inmates Challenge Connecticut’s Death Penalty

by tylercook on December 27, 2012

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Five Connecticut inmates have issued a legal challenge to the state’s death penalty, alleging that the lack of written policies results in discriminatory application of the death sentence. The inmates complained that prosecutors have an arbitrary decision-making process when choosing the death penalty. As a result, the process has allowed prosecutors to make decisions that are racially and geographically biased. Because of this arbitrary application of the death penalty, the five inmates have sued the state to have their death penalties overturned.
Earlier this year, Connecticut repealed their death penalty. However, inmates who were already sentenced will not be affected by this repeal as it only applies to future capital crimes.

State Attorneys Believe Death Penalty Law Provides Adequate Guidance

All 13 of the state’s attorneys were expected to testify, along with a number of former prosecutors. Prior to trial, the government attorneys reached an agreement with the inmate’s lawyers that will spare some of the state’s attorneys from testifying. As part of the deal, prosecutors agreed to stipulate that there were no formal guidelines that specified when the death penalty was appropriate. The prosecutors also stipulated that there was no statewide discussion among prosecutors to ensure they were applying the criteria consistently throughout Connecticut.

The trial is unusual as it is being held in a makeshift court room set up in the Northern Correctional Institution in Somers, Connecticut. No media was allowed in the facility, but reporters were able to watch a video feed at the Rockville Superior Court.

Kevin Kane, the Chief State’s Attorney, testified on Wednesday, September 5 that Connecticut has no written policies that suggest when the death penalty is an appropriate sentence for a crime. However, he believes that the state law does provide sufficient guidance. He is confident that prosecutors throughout Connecticut followed the same guidelines.

Kane testified that he had made decisions to reduce charges based on circumstances including the strength of the state’s case against the defendant and the existence of mitigating factors. According to Kane, part of his role as a state attorney includes the ability to choose not to seek the death penalty in some cases.

Study Supports Claim of Prosecution Bias

Key evidence supporting the inmates’ claim is provided in a study by John Donahue, a professor at Stanford University. He reviewed all of the state’s nearly 4,700 murders that occurred between 1973 and 2007.

According to his findings, minority defendants found guilty of killing white victims are disproportionately more likely to receive the death penalty than white defendants who kill white victims. The minority defendants were close to three times more likely to receive the death penalty than white defendants who killed white victims. Further, he found minority defendants are six times as likely to be sentenced to death when they kill white victims as opposed to killing minority victims in death penalty eligible crimes.

Donohue’s study also concluded that the decision to pursue the death penalty often reflected geographic bias as well. He will testify at the trial, which is expected to last for another week.

There are currently 11 inmates on Connecticut’s death row. Six of the inmates are black and one is Hispanic. The remaining four are white. Ten of their 15 victims were white. Four victims were black and one was Hispanic.

This article was composed by TJ Barea, a freelance writer on law and politics, for the team at Lewisville divorce lawyer.




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