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Connecticut death row prisoners get reprieve

By
Danielle Haynes
Death penalty opponents demonstrate outside of the U.S. Supreme Court on June 29 in Washington, D.C. The Connecticut Supreme Court on Thursday ruled the death penalty is cruel and unusual punishment, clearing the way for 11 prisoners on death row to be spared the punishment. Photo by Kevin Dietsch/UPI.
Death penalty opponents demonstrate outside of the U.S. Supreme Court on June 29 in Washington, D.C. The Connecticut Supreme Court on Thursday ruled the death penalty is cruel and unusual punishment, clearing the way for 11 prisoners on death row to be spared the punishment. Photo by Kevin Dietsch/UPI. | License Photo

HARTFORD, Conn., Aug. 13 (UPI) -- Three years after lawmakers abolished the death penalty in Connecticut, the state's Supreme Court ruled Thursday the execution of any inmates still on death row is unconstitutional.

In April 2012, Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy signed a bill making the death penalty illegal in the state for any crimes committed after April 25, 2012. That left 11 convicts on death row still eligible for execution, though.

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The Supreme Court said Thursday it would be cruel and unusual punishment to now execute those inmates, including Eduardo Santiago, who requested the court review issue.

"Upon careful consideration of the defendant's claims in light of the governing constitutional principles and Connecticut's unique historical and legal landscape, we are persuaded that, following its prospective abolition, this state's death penalty no longer comports with contemporary standards of decency and no longer serves any legitimate penological purpose," wrote Justice Richard Palmer in the majority decision. "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."

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Justice Chase Rogers dissented, writing the majority's opinion was "fundamentally flawed.

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"The majority's determination that the death penalty is unconstitutional under our state's constitution is based on a house of cards, falling under the slightest breath of scrutiny," he wrote.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Connecticut issued a statement applauding the Supreme Court's decision.

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"This decision reflects an evolving norm against the death penalty," said David McGuire, legislative and policy director for the ACLU of Connecticut. "There are better ways to punish. Too often, the death penalty is applied arbitrarily and in a racially biased manner. This is a decision that falls on the right side of history."

Nineteen states and the District of Columbia have abolished the death penalty, and Connecticut was the 16th state to do so in 2012. The 11 inmates spared the death penalty will instead receive life in prison without possibility of parole.

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