By now the story is familiar. Nearly two weeks ago, Annie Le GRD ’13 went missing. Five days later her body was found in a wall in the lab at 10 Amistad St.; she had been strangled. On Thursday, lab technician Raymond Clark III was arrested and charged with murder; he is next due in court Oct. 6.
Over the coming weeks and months, as Clark’s affidavit is unsealed and the trial unfolds, we are likely to learn more about the gruesome circumstances of the murder and wonder how someone could do such a thing. And we will think about what should be done to a person convicted of such a crime. How, we will be forced to ask, should a murderer be punished?
In Connecticut, this debate raged in the spring. It culminated with Public Act 09-107 (House Bill 6578) “An Act Concerning the Penalty for a Capital Felony.” The bill sought to eliminate the death penalty as a sentencing option. It passed by a wide margin in the House of Representatives and by a smaller one in the state Senate before Governor M. Jodi Rell vetoed it in June. It was one of many vetoes.
Unfortunately lawmakers didn’t think they had the votes to override the veto, and the bill was left off the docket this summer so as to not interfere with other crucial matters, including comprehensive health-care reform and budgeting issues. Rell then declined to submit a proposal to make the current law workable, as requested by the legislature, which effectively stopped discussions.
Thus, as the media has reminded us many times in the past two weeks, Connecticut is a state that maintains capital punishment as an option. But it is used infrequently: Since the state reinstated the death penalty in 1973, it has only executed one person, serial rapist and murderer Michael Bruce Ross, in 2005. There are currently 10 people on death row.
While prosecutors have not announced whether they will seek the death penalty for Clark if he is convicted, they would face tremendous hurdles if they did. They would have to prove that Clark was guilty not only of first-degree murder but also of a capital felony, for which the definition is narrow, largely confined to multiple murders, killing children or uniformed officers, recidivist murders, and murders that are an accessory to another felony, like kidnapping or sexual assault.
But while it is unlikely that Clark would get the death penalty if convicted of the crime, the underlying issue remains pertinent.
In the coming months, the fates of Joshua Komisarjevsky and Steven Hayes will be decided. If convicted, both could face the death penalty for their involvement, while on parole, in a 2007 invasion of a home in Cheshire, Conn. It was a heinous crime that left three people dead, a man beaten and a house in shambles. William Petit, who lost his wife and daughters, has repeatedly expressed his desire to see the men put to death. He thanked Rell for vetoing the bill in June, calling the death penalty “the appropriate just and moral societal response to those who commit capital felonies.”
But while Petit seems unshakably convinced, elsewhere people are less at ease. Last Tuesday in Ohio, the execution of Romell Broom was botched, leading to a weeklong stay by the governor. David Grann’s recent New Yorker article (“Trial by Fire,” Sept. 7) offers a damning account of an arson case in Texas that ended in the execution of a man who may have been innocent. The state is now re-examining the evidence in its first state-sanctioned review of a capital punishment case. The death penalty has not lost favor entirely: John Allen Muhammad, the sniper whose wave of random shootings in October 2002 paralyzed the Washington metropolitan region, will be executed in November, pending an 11th-hour appeal with the U.S. Supreme Court and an expected request for clemency.
Connecticut, however, seems to be at a standstill. Rell’s recent penchant for vetoes (not to mention the death penalty) has left members of the state legislature with little political capital left to spend on a measure that, admittedly, rarely comes into play.
In July, it made sense for legislators to compromise on the death penalty to pass crucial measures like Sustinet and the state budget. But by next week, both will be in place, while the question of capital punishment will only become more germane. Though pushing Rell to repeal or create a more workable death penalty won’t be easy, this is certainly not the time to back down from a fight.
Sarah Nutman is a junior in Trumbull College.