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Court: Prison conditions for ex-death row inmate too harsh

March 11, 2021 GMT

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — A federal appeals court ruled Thursday that Connecticut prison officials are imposing detention conditions that are too harsh on a former death row inmate convicted of killing a police officer, ordering the state to relax those conditions.

Richard Reynolds, convicted of killing Waterbury officer Walter Williams in 1992, is detained at Northern Correctional Institution in Somers under the highest Level 5 risk level. He says he is confined to his cell 21 to 22 hours a day and has no interaction with any inmates in the general population — conditions he claims are unconstitutional.

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Three judges on the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York City upheld a lower court judge and ruled Reynolds’ constitutional rights to equal protection are being violated, because two other former death row inmates are classified at a Level 4 risk level that allows them to live in the general population. They ordered that Reynolds be detained in similar Level 4 conditions.

The judges also said the state law setting the Level 5 conditions was unconstitutional.

Connecticut abolished its death penalty in 2015 and death row inmates were re-sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of release.

The appeals court panel also overruled some of the lower court decisions and sent the case back to the trial court to decide other claims by Reynolds, including whether his Level 5 confinement is unconstitutionally cruel and unusual punishment.

In a statement, state Attorney General William Tong’s office said it was reviewing the appeals court ruling and will decide whether to ask the U.S. Supreme Court to hear an appeal.