Connecticut Supreme Court upholds death penalty abolishment

May 26, 2016 GMT

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — The Connecticut Supreme Court on Thursday upheld its landmark ruling declaring the state’s death penalty unconstitutional and abolishing capital punishment.

The court’s 5-2 decision overturned death sentences imposed on Russell Peeler Jr. and ordered a lower court to impose life in prison without the possibility of release. Peeler had been on death row for ordering the 1999 killings of a woman and her 8-year-old son in Bridgeport. The boy, B.J. Brown, was to testify against Peeler in another murder case.


Justices reconsidered a 4-3 ruling they made in August in the appeal of another death row inmate, Eduardo Santiago. The majority declared capital punishment no longer comported with the state constitution’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment and was out of step with contemporary standards of decency.

Last year’s ruling revealed a deep rift in the court, with justices writing concurring and dissenting opinions that included highly unusual criticism of each other.

At issue in both appeals was a 2012 law passed by Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and the Democrat-controlled legislature that abolished the death penalty, but only for future murders — leaving 11 men including Peeler and Santiago still facing execution.

The majority in last year’s landmark ruling essentially said it wouldn’t be fair to execute the remaining death row inmates when lawmakers had determined the death penalty was no longer needed for future killers.

The 2012 ban had been passed prospectively because many lawmakers refused to vote for a bill that would spare the death penalty for Joshua Komisarjevsky and Steven Hayes, who were convicted of killing a mother and her two daughters in a highly publicized 2007 home invasion in Cheshire.

Chief State’s Attorney Kevin Kane said prosecutors will now move to get the death row inmates resentenced to life in prison without the possibility of release.

Opponents of the death penalty immediately praised Thursday’s ruling.

Sheila Denion, project director for the Connecticut Network to Abolish the Death Penalty, said the decision “takes the prudent step of ending the state’s failed death penalty and the possibility of any future executions.”

The state’s death penalty was criticized by both critics and advocates alike, because state law allowed multiple appeals that virtually assured that no one would be executed for decades. Connecticut’s last execution was of serial killer Michael Ross in 2005, but only after Ross dropped all his appeals.


Chief Justice Chase Rogers, who dissented in last year’s ruling, joined the majority in Thursday’s decision, saying she had to respect the legal precedent set by the court only months earlier.

Malloy, who signed the 2012 law that left death row inmates still facing execution, said in a statement that his opposition to the death penalty arose after many years as a prosecutor, attorney and public servant.

“These are deeply personal and moral issues that we as a society are facing and the court has once again ruled on today,” Malloy said. “Our focus today should not be on those currently sitting on death row, but with their victims and those surviving family members.”