Capital punishment in Connecticut

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Capital punishment in Connecticut formerly existed as an available sanction for a criminal defendant upon conviction for the commission of a capital offense. Since the 1976 United States Supreme Court decision in Gregg v. Georgia until Connecticut repealed capital punishment in 2012, Connecticut executed one individual, although the law allows executions to proceed for those still on death row and convicted under the previous law.

Death row inmates are placed in the Connecticut Department of Correction system. The state's death row for men currently houses ten male inmates, who are incarcerated at Northern Correctional Institution in the town of Somers. The method of execution currently used is lethal injection. As in any other state, people who are under 18 at the time of commission of the capital crime[1] or mentally impaired[2] are constitutionally precluded from being executed.

History[edit]

Between 1639 and 2005, Connecticut performed 126 executions. Twenty-four executions occurred in Connecticut Colony, prior to its statehood. The remaining 102 executions occurred after Connecticut's 1788 admission to the Union as the fifth state.[3] Contrary to popular belief, Adonijah Bailey was not the oldest person executed at age 79 in 1824; instead, he was tried and sentenced to death at age 80 in January 1825 for the murder of Jeremiah W. Pollock, and hanged himself on May 24, over two weeks before he was to be executed.[4][5] The oldest person executed is Gershon Marx, hanged on May 18, 1905, for murder at age 73.[6] The following are some historical milestones of capital punishment in Connecticut:

Year Date Milestone Name Race Sex Age Method Offense
1639 January 30 first person to be executed Nepauduck Native American Male n/a Hanging Murder
1647 May 26 first female to be executed Young, Alse White Female n/a Hanging Witchcraft
1753 November 21 last adult female to be executed by hanging Bramble, Sarah White Female n/a Hanging Murder
1786 December 20 youngest person to be executed Ocuish, Hannah Native American Female 12 Hanging Murder
1817 November 30 last person to be executed for a crime other than murder Adams, Amos Black Male 28 Hanging Rape
1905 May 18 oldest person to be executed Marx, Gershon White Male 73 Hanging Murder
1936 April 7 last person to be executed by hanging Simborski, John White Male 30 Hanging Murder
1937 February 10 first person to be executed by electric chair McElroy, Joseph J. White Male 45 Electric chair Murder
1960 May 17 last person to be executed by electric chair (as well as the last pre-Furman execution in Connecticut) Taborsky, Joseph White Male 36 Electric chair Murder
2005 May 13 first person to be executed by lethal injection Ross, Michael White Male 45 Lethal Injection Murder

Current status[edit]

After Furman v. Georgia, Connecticut reinstated the death penalty on January 10, 1973.[7] Lethal injection became the method mandated to execute condemned prisoners, replacing the electric chair, which had not been used since Taborsky's execution in 1960.[citation needed]

Unlike most of the other states, the Governor of Connecticut cannot commute the death sentence imposed under State law or pardon a death row inmate. This is determined by the Board of Clemency, on which the Governor does not sit. The other states where the Board has sole authority are Georgia and Idaho.[8]

Repeal[edit]

On May 22, 2009, the Connecticut General Assembly passed a bill that would abolish the death penalty, although it would not retroactively apply to the ten current Connecticut death row inmates or those convicted of capital crimes committed before the repeal went into effect. The bill was vetoed by Governor Jodi Rell.[9]

On April 11, 2012, the Connecticut House of Representatives voted to repeal capital punishment for future cases (leaving past death sentences in place). The Connecticut Senate had already voted for the bill, and on April 25 Governor Dannel Malloy signed the bill into law.[10] That made Connecticut the 17th state in the US without a death penalty, and the fifth state to abolish capital punishment in five years.[11]

Executions[edit]

During the 366 years between 1639 and 2005, Connecticut has performed a total of 126 executions. This averages to be approximately one execution every three years. The only person to be executed since 1960 has been the serial killer and rapist Michael Bruce Ross on May 13, 2005, for the kidnapping, rapes and murders of Robin Stavinsky, April Brunais, Wendy Baribeault, and Leslie Shelley.[12] Until the 2005 Roper v. Simmons decision, juveniles over the age of 16 could be sentenced to death because state law only required that the offender be tried in adult court to face the death penalty.

Method of Execution Years Employed Number of Executions
Hanging 1639—1936 107
Electric chair 1937—1960 18
Lethal injection 2005—present 1
Total: 366 Years 126 Executions

Notable executions[edit]

Several notable executions have occurred in both Connecticut Colony and in the state of Connecticut, as indicated below.

  • Hannah Ocuish — Ocuish (born 1774) was a mentally retarded Pequot Indian girl who was hanged on December 20, 1786 in New London County, Connecticut. She was accused of killing the young daughter of a prominent white family after quarreling with her over some strawberries. At the time of her execution, Ocuish was 12 years and 9 months old. She is believed to be the youngest person legally executed in America.
  • Gerald Chapman – Chapman, a Prohibition-era gangster known as "The Count of Gramercy Park", was the first criminal to be dubbed "Public Enemy Number One" by the press.[13] Convicted of the October 12, 1924 murder of police officer James Skelly in New Britain, Chapman was hanged by upright jerker on April 6, 1926 at the state prison in Wethersfield.
  • Michael Bruce Ross — The execution of Ross was the first in Connecticut (and in all of New England) since 1960. It was also the first execution in Connecticut administered by lethal injection. As of 2014, Ross is the most recent inmate executed in Connecticut, although the state's death row houses ten convicted murderers who are in various stages of legal appeals.

Death row[edit]

The male death row is located at the Northern Correctional Institution. In 1995 the male death row moved from Osborn Correctional Institution to Northern.[14] The execution chamber is located at Osborn.[15] The York Correctional Institution houses all female prisoners in the state, but as of 2012 no women are on the death row.[16]

Inmates sentenced to death[edit]

There are currently ten inmates sentenced to death in Connecticut.

Name Race Date of birth Current age Date of offense Age at offense Date of arrest Date of sentencing Years on death row Location of offense Capital felony Aggravating factor
Ashby, Lazale Black November 28, 1984 29 December 2, 2002 18 September 4, 2003 March 28, 2008 6 Hartford Murder during sexual assault Heinous, cruel, or depraved murder
Breton, Robert White December 10, 1946 67 December 13, 1987 41 December 15, 1987 October 27, 1989 24 Waterbury Murder of a person under the age of sixteen Heinous, cruel, or depraved murder
Campbell, Jessie Black September 9, 1979 34 August 26, 2000 20 September 5, 2000 August 16, 2007 6 Hartford Murder with multiple victims Murder creating risk of death to others
Cobb, Sedrick Black February 3, 1962 52 December 16, 1989 27 December 21, 1989 August 13, 1991 22 Waterbury Two capital felonies Heinous, cruel, or depraved murder
Hayes, Steven White May 30, 1963 51 July 23, 2007 44 July 23, 2007 December 2, 2010 3 Cheshire Six capital felonies Heinous, cruel, or depraved murder
Komisarjevsky, Joshua White August 10, 1980 33 July 23, 2007 26 July 23, 2007 January 27, 2012 2 Cheshire Six capital felonies Heinous, cruel, or depraved murder
Peeler, Russell Black January 15, 1972 42 January 8, 1999 26 January 14, 1999 December 10, 2007 6 Bridgeport Murder with multiple victims; murder of a person under the age of sixteen Heinous, cruel, or depraved murder
Reynolds, Richard Black November 8, 1968 45 December 18, 1992 24 December 21, 1992 April 13, 1995 19 Waterbury Murder of a police officer Heinous, cruel, or depraved murder; murder during the attempted commission of a felony having previously been convicted of the same felony
Rizzo, Todd White October 11, 1978 35 September 30, 1997 18 October 2, 1997 August 13, 1999 14 Waterbury Murder of a person under the age of sixteen
Webb, Daniel Black July 21, 1962 51 August 24, 1989 27 August 25, 1989 September 12, 1991 22 Hartford

Crimes[edit]

  • Lazale Delane Ashby — Ashby was condemned to death on March 28, 2008.[17] On December 2, 2002, Ashby raped and murdered his neighbor, 21-year-old Elizabeth Garcia, in her Hartford apartment, and was subsequently convicted of the crimes.
  • Robert Breton, Sr. — Breton was sentenced to death on October 27, 1989.[18] On December 13, 1987, Berton murdered his wife JoAnn (38) and their son, Robert Breton, Jr. (16), by beating and stabbing them to death. He was convicted of one capital felony and two counts of murder.
  • Jessie Campbell III — Campbell was condemned to death on August 16, 2007,[19] for the murders of LaTaysha Logan (20) and Desiree Privette (18), and also convicted of the attempted murder of Privette's aunt, Carolyn Privette, in an August 26, 2000 shooting spree.
  • Sedrick "Ricky" Cobb — Cobb was sentenced to death on August 13, 1991.[20] The former deliveryman from Naugatuck was convicted of the rape and murder of 23-year-old Julia Ashe of Watertown, whom he kidnapped from a Waterbury department store parking lot on December 16, 1989.
  • Steven Hayes and Joshua Komisarjevsky – Hayes was condemned to death on December 2, 2010, and Komisarjevsky was condemned on January 27, 2012, for the same crimes.[21][22][23] Hayes was found guilty on 16 out of 17 counts related to the home invasion murders of Jennifer Hawke-Petit, age 48, and her daughters Hayley Petit, 17, and Michaela Petit, 11. William Petit, husband / father of the deceased, survived the attack, and Komisarjevsky was convicted on all 17 counts related to the same set of crimes. Each sentence includes six consecutive death sentences, one for each capital felony conviction, plus an additional 106 years for the remaining charges.
  • Russell Peeler, Jr. — Peeler, a drug dealer, was condemned to death on December 10, 2007; he was convicted on October 15, 2007 of ordering his younger brother Adrian Peeler to kill Karen Clarke and her eight-year-old son, Leroy "B.J." Brown, Jr., in their Bridgeport duplex on January 8, 1999.[24] The boy was expected to be the key witness against Peeler in the upcoming trial for the May 29, 1998 fatal shooting of Clarke's boyfriend, Rudolf Snead, Jr., who was a former drug associate of Peeler's.[25] Leroy Brown had also been witness to an earlier drive-by shooting attack on Snead by Peeler prior to the murder.[26] Peeler was subsequently convicted of Snead's murder. Peeler claims to have no involvement in any of the murders.[26]
  • Richard Reynolds — Reynolds, a Brooklyn, New York, crack dealer, was condemned to death on April 13, 1995.[27] Reynolds murdered Officer Walter T. Williams (34) of the Waterbury Police Department on December 18, 1992; while being searched by Williams, Reynolds bumped against him to determine if the officer was wearing a bulletproof vest. Reynolds then shot Williams point-blank in the head with a handgun.[28]
  • Todd Rizzo — Rizzo was condemned to death[29] on March 29, 1999 for the September 30, 1997 murder of 13-year-old Stanley Edwards of Waterbury. Rizzo killed the boy by bludgeoning him at least 13 times with a three-pound sledgehammer in his backyard after telling the youth that they would be hunting snakes.
  • Daniel Webb — Webb was condemned to death on September 12, 1991;[30] he was convicted of kidnapping, rape and murder for the August 24, 1989 slaying in Hartford of Diane Gellenbeck, a 37-year-old Connecticut National Bank vice president. Prior to this, Webb already had an extensive criminal record including a 1983 robbery conviction, a 1984 rape and kidnapping conviction, and an arrest in 1987 for rape. While out on bail after the 1987 arrest, he raped and murdered Gellenbeck.

Inmates removed from death row[edit]

  • Colon, Ivo — In 2000, a jury sentenced Ivo Colon to death for the 1998 murder of his girlfriend's 2-year-old daughter, Keriana Tellado, in Waterbury. In 2004, the Connecticut Supreme Court overturned Colon's death sentence and ordered a new penalty hearing. The State's Attorney eventually decided not to seek the death penalty again. In a subsequent retrial of the penalty hearing, a plea bargain was reached, and Colon received two life sentences.
  • Courchesne, Robert — Courchesne was convicted of capital felony by a three-judge panel in the September 15, 1998, deaths of Demetris Rodgers and her baby. Rodgers was eight months pregnant when she was stabbed over a $410 drug debt. Her baby, Antonia, was delivered by emergency Caesarean section minutes after her death, and supposedly died 42 days later. However, on June 4, 2010, Courchesne's death sentence was overturned by the Connecticut Supreme Court, who ruled that the state did not show that Antonia was born alive after he stabbed her pregnant mother to death; upheld his conviction in Rodgers' murder; and ordered a new trial.[31]
  • Johnson, Terry — In 1993, Terry Johnson was sentenced to death for the June 5, 1991, murder of Connecticut State Trooper Russell Bagshaw in Windham. In May 2000, his sentence was reduced to life in prison without the possibility of release. Terry Johnson, and his brother Duane Johnson, were convicted of murdering Bagshaw while burglarizing a gun shop. Trooper Bagshaw interrupted the Johnson brothers as they were stealing guns from the shop. Terry Johnson fired 19 times in the darkness with a semiautomatic pistol, killing Bagshaw before he could get out of his cruiser. One bullet found a gap in the trooper's bulletproof vest.
  • Santiago, Eduardo — Santiago had been condemned to death on January 31, 2005;[32] he was convicted of capital felony and murder charges after shooting Joseph Niwinski in the left temple as he slept in his West Hartford apartment on December 14, 2000. Prosecutors said Santiago carried out a murder-for-hire scheme in which he agreed to kill Niwinski in exchange for a broken snowmobile and his credit card debt being paid off.[33] However, the Connecticut Supreme Court overturned Santiago's death sentence on June 4, 2012, and ruled that the trial judge, Elliot Solomon, failed to disclose "significant and relevant" mitigating evidence for jury consideration when they had decided to send Santiago to death row in 2005. The court let Santiago's conviction stand and ordered a new trial.[34]

See also[edit]


References[edit]

  1. ^ Roper v. Simmons, 543 U.S. 551 (2005)
  2. ^ Atkins v. Virginia, 536 U.S. 304 (2002)
  3. ^ Regional Studies Northeast
  4. ^ RootsWeb: RIGENWEB-L Re: [RIGENWEB] Pollock Murder – The Scoop
  5. ^ The Telescope, June 4, 1825. The Telescope. June 4, 1825. 
  6. ^ [Deathpenalty]death penalty news-CONN., ALA., MISS., KY., USA
  7. ^ Death Penalty Information Center
  8. ^ Clemency
  9. ^ Rell Vows to Veto Ban on Death Penalty in Connecticut
  10. ^ "Connecticut governor signs bill to repeal death penalty". FOXNews.com (FOX News Network, LLC.). April 25, 2012. Retrieved April 25, 2012. 
  11. ^ Death Penalty Repeal Goes to Connecticut Governor Retrieved April 24, 2012.
  12. ^ Michael Ross – Selected Chronology, CT State Library
  13. ^ "The First "Public Enemy Number One"". Smithsonian National Postal Museum. Retrieved January 19, 2010. 
  14. ^ "Northern Correctional Institution." Connecticut Department of Correction. Retrieved on August 16, 2010.
  15. ^ "Administration of Capital Punishment Directive Number 6.15." Connecticut Department of Correction. October 19, 2004. 1/9. Retrieved on August 16, 2010. "Execution Area. A series of four (4) contiguous rooms in the Osborn Correctional Institution comprised of the..."
  16. ^ "York Correctional Institution." Connecticut Department of Correction. Retrieved on November 9, 2010. "The York Correctional Institution is a high-security facility. It serves as the state's only institution for female offenders. It serves all superior courts in Connecticut and manages all pretrial and sentenced female offenders, whatever their security level."
  17. ^ "State of Connecticut Department of Correction Inmate Information – Lazale Delane Ashby". State of Connecticut. Retrieved December 18, 2011. 
  18. ^ "State of Connecticut Department of Correction Inmate Information – Robert Breton". State of Connecticut. Retrieved December 18, 2011. 
  19. ^ "State of Connecticut Department of Correction Inmate Information – Jessie Campbell". State of Connecticut. Retrieved December 18, 2011. 
  20. ^ "State of Connecticut Department of Correction Inmate Information – Sedrick Cobb". State of Connecticut. Retrieved December 18, 2011. 
  21. ^ Aliyah Shahid (December 2, 2010). "Steven Hayes sentenced to death in Connecticut home invasion, murders of mom, daughters of Dr. Petit". NYDailyNews.com. Retrieved December 3, 2010. 
  22. ^ "Second Conn. home invasion killer is sentenced to death". U.S. News on MSNBC.com. January 27, 2012. Retrieved January 27, 2012. 
  23. ^ "State of Connecticut Department of Correction Inmate Information – Steven Joseph Haynes". State of Connecticut. Retrieved December 18, 2011. 
  24. ^ "State of Connecticut Department of Correction Inmate Information – Russell Peeler". State of Connecticut. Retrieved December 18, 2011. 
  25. ^ "2 Lose Appeal in Drug Case". The New York Times. November 22, 2001. Retrieved December 18, 2011. 
  26. ^ a b "Defendant Denies Killing 8-Year-Old and 2 Adults". The New York Times. September 24, 1999. 
  27. ^ "State of Connecticut Department of Correction Inmate Information – Richard Reynolds". State of Connecticut. Retrieved December 18, 2011. 
  28. ^ "Officer's Killer Sentenced to Die - NYTimes.com". Connecticut; Waterbury (Conn): New York Times. March 30, 1995. Retrieved 2010-09-12. 
  29. ^ "State of Connecticut Department of Correction Inmate Information – Todd Rizzo". State of Connecticut. Retrieved December 19, 2011. 
  30. ^ "State of Connecticut Department of Correction Inmate Information – Daniel Webb". State of Connecticut. Retrieved December 18, 2011. 
  31. ^ "Conviction of death row inmate Courchesne overturned". WTNH/AP. June 4, 2010. 
  32. ^ "State of Connecticut Department of Correction Inmate Information – Eduardo Santiago". State of Connecticut. Retrieved December 18, 2011. 
  33. ^ "Rhode Island news | projo.com | The Providence Journal". projo.com. January 30, 2005. Retrieved 2010-09-12. 
  34. ^ Griffin, Alaine (June 4, 2012). "Death Sentence Reversed in Snowmobile Murder-For-Hire Case". Courant.com. Retrieved 2012-06-11. 

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