Many people don’t know that Connecticut is in the second year of its biennial budget. This means that the legislature has only to tweak an already approved budget to make sure it’s still balanced. This gives our legislators time to tackle non-budgetary items. You may know that up for discussion at the Capital this year is allowing liquor sales on Sunday, and legalizing the medical use of marijuana.
Also under discussion is the death penalty. Other than abortion, few issues ignite the passions of society quite like the death penalty. Proponents of the death penalty claim that it is a deterrent to serious crime. They say a criminal in the midst of violent action will think twice before committing violence knowing that he could “get the chair” if he gets caught.
Perhaps they’re right, but let’s take a look at the numbers. In Texas, where they execute more inmates than anywhere else in the US, the rate of violent crime per 100,000 people is 516, ranking Texas 15th in the nation for violent crime. There are 12 states without the death penalty, ten of which have violent crime rates lower than the national average.
Only three states (New Mexico, Illinois, and Michigan) have rates higher than Texas. So as a deterrent, the numbers just don’t add up.
Incidentally, Connecticut’s rate is 281, we rank 37th. Maine has the lowest number of violent crimes per 100,000, South Carolina the most. The national average is 474, http://www.census.gov/statab/ranks/rank21.html)
Some death penalty proponents bring up cost as an issue. “If we put ‘em away for life they’ll drain us dry” some people say. Let’s take a look at that. As an example, we’ll use one of our most notorious murderers, Joshua Komisarjevsky.
Komisarjevsky will be 32 years old in August. If he lives to be 100, it will cost the state $2,233,800 to incarcerate him, according to figures released by the Department of Corrections. Komisarjevsky’s trial cost the state $1.2 million, with $659,511 in lawyers' fees, so far. That does not include a lifetime of appeals. So what about the other $1 million? Well, I can’t say for sure how much his appeal will cost, but each appeal cost taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars.
I use Komisarjevsky because he was willing to plead guilty of all charges if the state would give him life without chance of parole. He admitted he was guilty. The entire trial was about the death penalty. No death penalty, no trial.
It goes without saying that Komisarjevsky and his cohort, Steven Hayes, are the devil incarnate, so let’s execute them anyway, regardless of the cost. Under current Connecticut law, it is virtually impossible to execute anyone.
The last person executed in Connecticut was Michael Ross in 2005. He was a serial killer who practically had to beg to be executed. Before him was Joseph "Mad Dog" Taborsky. He was executed on May 17, 1960, after a string of brutal robberies and murders in the 1950’s.
Some would say let’s make the law tougher so those sentenced to death will meet their fate. It is unlikely that argument will gain much traction in Connecticut today.
The last argument for the death penalty is pure vengeance, an eye for an eye. I have to admit that since July of 2007, I have spent many nights thinking of ways to kill Hayes and Komisarjevsky. I admit, too, that these thoughts make me feel good. Nonetheless, my thoughts are morally wrong.
It troubles me that many conservative Christians adopt a pro-death penalty view. While I’m not a Christian, I don’t believe that Jesus was the son of God, or that he arose from the dead, I do believe the road map he laid down for civilization is the correct one. I don’t believe Jesus would be a proponent of capital punishment. Add to that, sometimes our system of justice gets it wrong. One hundred and forty death row inmates have been exonerated in the United States since 1973, some of them posthumously.
Given all that, it is clear that our legislature should repeal the death penalty. However, being politicians, they will look at another number. In a Quinnipiac Poll released today, Connecticut voters support the death penalty by a 62% to 31% margin. Most times, that’s the only number that counts.