Prosecutors seek to re-argue case that ended Connecticut death penalty

Reuters News
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Posted: Sep 05, 2015 12:54 PM

By Richard Weizel

MILFORD, Conn. (Reuters) - Connecticut prosecutors asked the state Supreme Court on Friday to reconsider its recent decision on a narrow vote to end the state's death penalty, a clerk for the state Supreme Court said.

Prosecutors late Friday filed a motion asking the justices to allow them to re-argue the case in which justices called the death penalty cruel and unusual punishment and concluded that it "no longer comports with contemporary standards of decency."

The ruling, on a 4-3 vote, added Connecticut to the growing list of states backing away from the death penalty, including Nebraska and Maryland most recently. Thirty-one states have the death penalty.

Prosecutors on Friday also asked the court to strike from the record a concurring opinion about racial bias in capital cases they said was barred as merely advisory, the clerk said.

In the opinion, Justices Flemming Norcott and Andrew McDonald wrote that racial and ethnic discrimination had "permeated the breadth of this state's experience with capital charging and sentencing decisions."

Prosecutors want to present new arguments in response to the majority opinions, including the rarity of executions in Connecticut, the delay in imposing death sentences and the danger of executing the innocent, the clerk said.

"The Division of Criminal Justice recognizes the complex legal and policy issues that the court confronted in this crucially important case," Chief State's Attorney Kevin Kane wrote in the motion.

"The process that the majority followed in reaching its conclusion deprived the division of the opportunity to address the concerns that drove the results and led the majority unaided by the time-tested adversarial process to inaccurate assumptions and errors of law," he wrote.

Three justices had accused the majority in powerfully worded dissents of cherry-picking facts to reach their decision.

"The majority's determination that the death penalty is unconstitutional under our state constitution is based on a house of cards, falling under the slightest breath of scrutiny," Chief Justice Chase Rogers wrote in August.

The ruling was related to the case of Eduardo Santiago, who was convicted of murder. His sentence was overturned in 2012, and he asked the court to decide whether the death penalty was constitutional for crimes committed prior to 2012.

Connecticut in 2012 abolished capital punishment for future crimes but allowed the death penalty to be imposed for crimes previously committed. The current debate leaves 11 death row inmates in limbo.

(Additional reporting by Katie Reilly in New York; Editing by David Bailey, Raissa Kasolowsky and Marguerita Choy)