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US state court bars execution of 11 death row inmates

August 13, 2015

HARTFORD, Connecticut (AP) — Three years after Connecticut abolished the death penalty for any future crimes, the state’s highest court on Thursday spared the lives of the state’s 11 remaining death-row inmates saying it would be unconstitutional to execute them.

Within minutes, a lawyer with the Chief Public Defender’s office said he was getting on the phone with his office’s clients to share the news.

“There will be no more death row,” said Michael Courtney, the leader of the office’s capital defense unit.

The ruling comes in an appeal from a 12th inmate, Eduardo Santiago, whose attorneys had argued that any execution carried out after the 2012 repeal would constitute cruel and unusual punishment. Santiago, whose first sentence was overturned, faced a second penalty hearing and the possibility of lethal injection for a 2000 murder-for-hire killing in West Hartford.

The Connecticut Supreme Court, in a sharply divided 4-3 ruling, agreed with his position, ruling that the death penalty “no longer comports with contemporary standards of decency and no longer serves any legitimate penological purpose.”

“For these reasons, execution of those offenders who committed capital felonies prior to April 25, 2012, would violate the state constitutional prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment,” Justice Richard Palmer wrote for the majority.

Those inmates include Joshua Komisarjevsky and Steven Hayes, who were sentenced to die for killing a mother and her two daughters in a highly publicized 2007 home invasion in Cheshire.

The 2012 repeal, which set life in prison without the possibility of release as the punishment for crimes formerly considered capital offenses, was passed prospectively by lawmakers amid public outrage over the prospect that Komisarjevsky and Hayes might be spared execution.

In his ruling, Palmer wrote that it would not be permissible to execute other convicts “merely to achieve the politically popular end of killing two especially notorious inmates.”

Connecticut has had just one execution since 1960. Serial killer Michael Ross was put to death in 2005 after winning a legal fight to end his appeals.

Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy issued a statement Thursday saying those who have been on death row will spend the rest of their lives in state prisons with no possibility of freedom.

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This story has been corrected to delete a reference to 11 men being on death row when the repeal was passed; not all had been sentenced at that time.

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