Monday, September 19, 2011

Another death penalty trial starts today

Reporters were lining up outside the New Haven Superior Courthouse before dawn today to cover the launch of the Joshua Komisarjevsky trial. JK (as I'll call him, because typing "Komisarjevsky" is even harder than pronouncing it) is to be tried for the deadly 2007 Cheshire home invasion.

I don't have any doubt that JK is as guilty as hell, but I do believe in the necessity of the judicial process, and we'll also be treated to weeks (or months) of intense media coverage. That's how it goes.

But the thing I want to discuss today is the death penalty itself. As I previously disclosed here, I was involved in a documentary project about the politics of the death penalty. During that process I learned that judgments proscribing the death penalty are almost entirely subjective, with the majority of people sentenced to death not merely because of the nature of their crimes, but also by not having had the resources (money) to mount a reasonable defense. There are endless examples of wealthier defendants receiving a sentence of life (or even less) for the exact same crime with the exact circumstances as someone who was economically disadvantaged and received a death sentence.

Not to mention the cases where innocent people were sentenced to death. As one man who was falsely convicted and later released (after spending almost 18 years on death row) said: "You can't get pardoned after the death penalty."

Which brings me to the point of this article. There is almost zero possibility that JK, even if found guilty and sentenced to death, will ever actually BE put to death. Just like Stephen Hayes, his alleged accomplice who received the death sentence, will likely serve out his years in prison rather than meet his end in the death chamber.

Plainly put, the death penalty doesn't work. It can't work as written, and because of the amount of time it takes to exhaust all the possible appeals and legal maneuverings, most people convicted will likely die of old age before finally getting executed.

Mike Lawlor, former state senator and current Under Secretary for Criminal Justice Policy and Planning, has said simply, "As the law currently stands in Connecticut, it is very unlikely that anyone who doesn't want to die will ever be executed."

The law needs to be changed from a mythical death penalty to a solid life in prison without any possibility of parole to make it impossible for anyone convicted of a crime like the Cheshire home invasion to ever see the light of day again.

Because a civilized society shouldn't be in the business of murder.

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