Ashley Herzog

In July 2007, two career criminals, Steven Hayes and Joshua Komisarjevsky, broke into the Connecticut home of Dr. William Petit. The pair beat Dr. Petit nearly to death with a baseball bat and tied him up in the basement, saying “if you move, we’ll put two bullets in you.” They then set upon his wife, Jennifer, and two daughters, 17-year-old Hayley and 11-year-old Michaela.

Komisarjevsky savagely raped Michaela in her bed, pausing only to take cell phone pictures of the terrified little girl. After forcing her to withdraw $15,000 from her bank account, Hayes raped and strangled Jennifer in the living room. Then, as police surrounded the house, they bound the girls to the beds, doused them with gasoline, and lit the house on fire.

Yesterday, Steven Hayes was sentenced to death by lethal injection in a state that has only executed one person since 1960. For most people, the only shame is that his death won’t come quick enough.

Not so for death penalty opponents, who spend more time bleating for monstrous criminals than for their victims. When Hayes is finally strapped to that gurney, there will no doubt be candlelight vigils, where criminal-coddlers will spout canards about capital punishment.

We know what they’ll say.

They’ll say the death penalty does not deter murder. We don’t know that, since it’s never actually been studied. This is a statement of personal belief, not fact.

What we do know is that the murder rate soared when the Supreme Court abolished the death penalty in 1972. In 1960, the U.S. murder rate was 5.1 per 100,000 people. By late 70s, it had nearly doubled, reaching 10.2 in 1980. The U.S. government didn’t execute a single person that year. The murder rate only began to fall as more capital sentences were handed down in the 1990s. By 2009, it had plummeted to an all-time low of 5 per 100,000. 52 people were executed last year.

They’ll say the death penalty is the easy way out for murderers. While a few might feel that way, most of them spend years filing appeals. They resist execution until their legal options run out—which is why it often takes decades to execute a death row inmate.

They’ll say the death penalty is racist, so we need a moratorium. To hear them tell it, Southern juries would be stringing innocent blacks from trees if the ACLU didn’t keep them in check.

Ashley Herzog

Ashley Herzog can be reached at