Olivarius: Hayes verdict sets a sinister precedent

Culture Quotient

On Monday, jurors in state Superior Court in New Haven voted unanimously to sentence Steven Hayes to death, after finding him guilty last month of six capital felony charges. Early this year, Hayes, 47, along with fellow recent parolee Joshua Komisarjevsky, 30 (set to be tried next year) found Dr. William A. Petit sleeping on his couch, beat him with a baseball bat and locked him in the basement. Hayes then forced Petit’s wife, Jennifer Hawke-Petit, to withdraw $15,000 from her bank account. Komisarjevsky sexually assaulted their 11-year-old daughter, Michaela. Hayes raped Hawke-Petit, then strangled her. The men tied the two girls to their beds, doused them in gasoline and set the house on fire. Only William Petit survived.

The “Cheshire murders” are about as horrible a crime as you can get. The three and a half days of deliberation were spent “solemnly considering when capital punishment was warranted.” Some of the jury wept as the verdict was read; the case had even shifted the views of jurors who had staunchly opposed the death penalty in the past.

In colonial times, if someone was condemned to die, there was no chance for appeals or new evidence. You went from the courthouse to the gallows. In the 2010 judiciary system, a long wait begins. Hayes joins 10 other Connecticut residents on death row, some whom since 1987. It will likely be years before Hayes faces the needle. He will probably appeal the decision, multiple times, and clog up our court systems even more than they already are. His lawyers, incarceration and appeals will cost Connecticut taxpayers about $3 million. Imagine if Reverend John Davenport had faced a bill of $3 million dollars for a 1640s execution. He would probably have committed blasphemy.

Since 1976, Connecticut has executed only one person. Last year, the Connecticut General Assembly passed a bill that would have outlawed capital punishment permanently, but Governor M. Jodi Rell vetoed the bill.

The Cheshire case jury and the State of Connecticut have not been the only ones troubled by the question of capital punishment. At Yale, I find that many conversations about the death penalty and the Cheshire murders tend to focus on two questions: 1) What if it was your family that was murdered; wouldn’t you want the perpetrator to die? and 2) Aren’t there some crimes that are just so horrible that a criminal forfeits his or her right to live?

The answer to number one is almost always “Yes.” More “I would want to kill them myself.” Some people bring up the question of forgiveness, but that seems unfair. If I were Dr. Petit, forgiveness would be the last thing on my mind. But luckily for justice, this question of punishment is answered by a panel of unbiased peers.

The answer to question number two is more complicated. Gallup’s annual crime survey found that 65 percent of Americans support the use of the death penalty for persons convicted of murder, while 31 percent oppose it. This trend has stayed constant over the last six years. What Hayes and Komisarjevsky did was so horrible that it’s hard to think about the possibility of redemption. With this case, even people and jurors against the death penalty find it hard to stick to their guns. But what good will killing Steven Hayes actually accomplish? His victims are not coming back to life. Will executing Hayes really help Dr. Petit move past the killings? It is impossible to tell. Does it really make sense to kill people who kill people in order to show that killing is wrong? Our prison system demonstrates that the death penalty is not an effective deterrent for murderers. The death penalty shouldn’t be an answer in a modern nation. It is the symbol of a horribly broken justice system. This sentence will set a precedent that, even if they think the death penalty is wrong in general, there can be exceptions.

What is truly worse? The death penalty — a release and an escape — or a life sentence in the American prison system, without the possibility of parole?

Kathryn Olivarius is a senior in Branford College.

Comments

  • The Anti-Yale

    “Why do we kill people who kill people to teach them not to kill people?” (Bumper sticker from the 1970’s)

  • River Tam

    > What is truly worse? The death penalty — a release and an escape — or a life sentence in the American prison system, without the possibility of parole?

    Given that most death row inmates spend a lifetime trying to get a death sentence “reduced” to life imprisonment (hence the higher cost of a death penalty), I’d say they’ve already voted with their appeals.

  • RexMottram08

    Crimes call out for Punishment.

  • Yale12

    The fact that we are the only Western, industrialized nation to engage in capital punishment cries out for its ending. Now.

  • River Tam

    > The fact that we are the only Western, industrialized nation to engage in capital punishment cries out for its ending.

    You mean “the only rich white country”. Smacks of soft bigotry.

    Also, “everyone else is doing it” is hardly a well-reasoned thought, even if they are all well-to-do white folks.

  • Sara

    One recent study found that in a neighboring state, each execution cost nearly $40 million when the entire system was considered.

    $40 million per execution.

    I’d rather see that money go into violence prevention, or analyzing our nationwide backlog rape kits, which are desperately underfunded. $40 million is more than enough to save a few lives.

    In other words, the cost of killing these people is literally killing us.

    If states like CT think that they have enough money to operate capital punishment systems, they should be taxed at a higher rate by the federal government.

  • pablum

    RexMottram08 and River Tam are just fine and dandy with the fact that their desire for vengeance inevitably means that innocent people will be put to death.

    >You mean “the only rich white country”. Smacks of soft bigotry.

    Aw, now you just trollin’. Or stupid. The death penalty is prohibited in 99% of Latin and South America, nearly most of Africa, and in parts of Asia.

  • River Tam

    > Aw, now you just trollin’. Or stupid.

    Does the phrase “Western, industrialized nation” mean something other than “White and affluent nation”? Is there a Western industrialized nation that is not “white and affluent”? Is there a “White and affluent” nation that is not a “Western industrialized nation”?

    If P => Q, If Q => , therefore Iff P => Q

    > The death penalty is prohibited in 99% of Latin and South America, nearly most of Africa, and in parts of Asia.

    Your numbers are a little off:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Use_of_capital_punishment_by_nation

    But of course, as I said before “everyone else is doing it” is hardly a well-reasoned thought.

  • River Tam

    > RexMottram08 and River Tam are just fine and dandy with the fact that their desire for vengeance inevitably means that innocent people will be put to death.

    Absolutely not. But if Ms. Olivarius’s intention was to talk about the potential of innocents being executed, she picked a bad case to make her point.

  • RexMottram08

    To materialists, to those without a sense of the immaterial, the eternal or the supernatural, bodily death is unimaginably cruel. They have atrophied their sense of right and wrong, good and evil.

    The death penalty has 2 worthy functions:

    It is medicinal towards crime: it prevents the criminal from repeating his crime, and protects society from his criminal behavior.

    It is vindictive (not in a pejorative, but noble sense) It is expiation for the crime; it is reparation for a grave wrong, a grave EVIL.

    Life in prison is not a perfect substitute on either account.

  • RexMottram08

    I’d be willing to make a trade:

    I’ll give up the death penalty, if you give up abortion.

  • River Tam

    I wholeheartedly endorse Rex’s suggestion.

  • Standards

    Such a surprise that outspoken ideological analogues agree! Let’s just all sit back and watch rex and river have a circle jerk on every comment section. That’d be productive.

    I won’t even touch the false equivocation of the death sentence and abortion.

  • RexMottram08

    Yea, who needs those stinky innocent babies running around when we could enjoy the company of violent murderers and rapists!

  • Standards

    Man what? You’re equivocating murdering people with terminating a fetus.

    I’ll let the intellectual shallowness of your argument sink in a little bit.

  • Goldie08

    Not only should Hayes’ life be spared, but he should be released on the grounds that his emotional and troubled upbringing, poor parenting, ineffective public school education and disparate socio-economic position in life did not provide him with real opportunities to grow up to be a successful law abiding citizen. He is the real victim here, and we – society – are the murderers.

  • River Tam

    > Such a surprise that outspoken ideological analogues agree! Let’s just all sit back and watch rex and river have a circle jerk on every comment section. That’d be productive.

    No circle if I don’t have a thing to jerk.

    > Man what? You’re equivocating murdering people with terminating a fetus.

    You’re equivocating due process for heinous crimes with murder of innocent fetuses.

  • pablum

    >To materialists, to those without a sense of the immaterial, the eternal or the supernatural, bodily death is unimaginably cruel. They have atrophied their sense of right and wrong, good and evil.

    That’s a broad and unfounded assumption. Democritus and Epicurus, two of the earliest known materialists, argued that death should not be feared. They also developed theories of justice and social contract that more closely resemble our own institution of government than does your maniacal Catholicism.

    >It is medicinal towards crime: it prevents the criminal from repeating his crime, and protects society from his criminal behavior.

    This is exactly the justification for life imprisonment.

    >It is vindictive (not in a pejorative, but noble sense) It is expiation for the crime; it is reparation for a grave wrong, a grave EVIL.

    “Noble” in the most base of Nietzschean senses, perhaps: the strong extinguishing the weak. As for “expiation” and “reparation,” you offer vague mysticism and personal feeling where clarity and coolness are most required: deciding the fate of a human life. No person should be put to death merely to satisfy your fanatical emotions.

    >I’ll give up the death penalty, if you give up abortion.

    The *quid pro quo* of uncompromising morality! How tasteful. I don’t recognize the equivalence. I suppose that if the punishment for murder was to reside in a woman’s womb, against her will or to deleterious effect, I might favor her right to terminate the life of the condemned.

    So, in a mighty effort to make sense of your analogy: “I’ll let you have the death penalty, as soon as you let society put a criminal in your uterus.”

  • RexMottram08

    >clarity and coolness are most required

    He willfully killed another human. How’s that for clarity?

    >Strong extinguishing the weak

    Who is the murderer here?

  • pablum

    Steven Hayes is a murderer. He is a despicable human being. His life is worthless. I do not deny any of these things.

    It’s just that they’re entirely irrelevant.

  • RexMottram08

    His life is NOT worthless. You don’t bother to punish or execute someone without “worth.”

  • pablum

    I’m glad that you see that, by submitting him to the ritual and ceremony of capital punishment, with all its solemnific pomp, you not only perpetuate a system that cannot help but lead to the miscarriage of justice, but glorify the life of a rapist and a murderer.

  • RexMottram08

    You cannot repay a debt with worthless money.

    (Unless you’re Tim Geithner)

  • Andreology

    You suggest that it is worse to be alive in prison than to die. Then why do you object to the “lesser” punishment of execution?

  • pablum

    >You cannot repay a debt with worthless money.

    Who will rape the rapists, then?

    >You suggest that it is worse to be alive in prison than to die. Then why do you object to the “lesser” punishment of execution?

    I can’t tell if you’re referring to me. I never said any such thing.

  • RexMottram08

    >Who will rape the rapists, then?

    Punishment can be equal in gravity without equality in kind.

  • The Anti-Yale

    Vengeance is MINE, sayeth the Lord. “Mine” means not “YOURS.”

  • RexMottram08

    Your eisegesis is underwhelming.

  • pablum

    >Punishment can be equal in gravity without equality in kind.

    Shall we refer then to the Department of Weights and Measures? What’s the standard unit? Is it murder? So is a rape then 0.5 murders?

  • The Anti-Yale

    ALL interpretation is eisegetic. Objectivity and exegesis are phoney ideals propagated by pedants and journalistic obsessives. Juan Williams come back!

    Or are you not a de-constructionist?

    I am proud to be an unabashed eisegete, and not a pompous malapropist.

  • pablum

    >Punishment can be equal in gravity without equality in kind.

    I liked your comparison to currency better. It was amusing to picture a Catholic “watching round the shambles where human flesh is sold.”

  • ohno

    River Tam, quit defiling the name of one of my favorite fictional characters with your comments.

  • River Tam

    > River Tam, quit defiling the name of one of my favorite fictional characters with your comments.

    No.

  • Stanley Heller

    fine article here.

    Readers would profit by looking at the book by former prosecutor and famous novelist Scott Turow, “Ultimate Punishment”. It details his evolving view of capital punishment and tells of some horrible cases where innocent people nearly lost their lives.

    And for the guilty people who really did murder they need to be kept in prisons isolated from society.