Ex-death row inmate resentenced to life without parole

AP News
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Posted: Dec 04, 2015 2:34 PM

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — A former death row inmate whose appeal resulted in capital punishment being eliminated in Connecticut was resentenced Friday to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Eduardo Santiago was sentenced for a 2000 murder-for-hire killing in West Hartford. Prosecutors say he shot 45-year-old Joseph Niwinski in exchange for a pink-striped snowmobile with a broken clutch.

Santiago, 36, also received an additional 45 years in prison for other crimes, including conspiracy to commit murder, stealing a firearm and burglary.

The state legislature had eliminated the death penalty in 2012, except for those who were already facing capital punishment.

The state Supreme Court had overturned Santiago's death sentence and ordered a new penalty phase in 2012, saying the trial judge wrongly withheld key evidence from the jury regarding the severe abuse Santiago suffered while growing up.

He was facing the possibility of it being reinstated when the same court ruled on his appeal in August. A divided court found that capital punishment violates the state constitution, "no longer comports with contemporary standards of decency" and does not serve any penal purpose.

Defense attorney Walter Bansley said he had no option to argue for anything other than a life sentence on Friday.

"The Connecticut Supreme Court, when it ruled the death penalty was unconstitutional, made it very clear that they were sending it back to the trial court and that nobody had any discretion about the sentence," he said.

Santiago did not speak during the hearing before Hartford Superior Court Judge Carl Taylor, but Bansley expressed remorse to the victim's family on his behalf.

"He just felt that too much time had passed and anything he said would come off as insincere," Bansley said.

Santiago is the first former death-row inmate to be resentenced.

The others may have to wait for another Supreme Court ruling in a case that could overturn the August decision.

Oral arguments are scheduled for Jan. 7 in the appeal of Russell Peeler, who was sentenced to die for ordering the 1999 killings of an 8-year-old boy and his mother in Bridgeport. The state has been given the opportunity to argue in that case that a prospective death penalty does not violate the state constitution.