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CT Death Penalty on Trial in Supreme Court

State Supreme Court will tackle a case this week that questions the legality of the state's abolition of the death penalty, which leaves the punishment in place for those currently on death row.

Connecticut's decision to abolish the death penalty for future capital crimes but keep it for existing death row inmates is coming under review this week in a case before the State Supreme Court.

The General Assembly last year eliminated the death penalty for all future capital murder crimes, but under a political compromise intended to get the measure through the legislature backers agreed to keep the death penalty for the 10 men currently on death row, including the two men who murdered three members of the Petit family in the Cheshire home invasion of 2007. 

The State Supreme Court's justices heard arguments Tuesday in the case of Eduardo Santiago, who was convicted of the 2000 murder-for-hire of Joseph Niwinski of West Hartford. Santiago was sentenced to death in 2005. 

Now his public defender argues that carrying out that sentence after the repeal of the death penalty would constitute cruel and unusual punishment. In deciding the case, the state's highest court could strike down portions or all of the repeal legislation, according to a report today in the Hartford Courant.

"The execution of a handful of men who committed their crimes before repeal fails to achieve the constitutionally required goals of deterrence and retribution,'' the Courant quotes Public Defender Mark Rademacher, from a brief he filed on Santiago's behalf. "Their execution would be nothing but the purposeless and needless imposition of pain and suffering. This court should join with other states that reject death sentences when they lack justification as deterrence or retribution."

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