Inmate’s death request may stall

One of the two killers sentenced to death for the infamous 2007 triple homicide in Cheshire, Conn. declared in a letter released Oct. 11 that he will waive his right to appeal the case and proceed to his execution.

In the letter, Steven Hayes — who has been sitting on death row since his sentencing by the New Haven Superior Court in December 2010 — lamented the “cruel and unusual punishment” perpetrated by the prison staff at the Northern Correctional Institute in Somers, Conn. and voiced his intention to forgo additional appeals and expedite his death sentence. If his request is granted, Hayes, 49, will follow an example set by serial killer Michael Ross, a Connecticut death row inmate who was executed after waiving his appeals in 2005. Yet legal experts and state politicians interviewed said they are doubtful that the judicial system will accept Hayes’ position in the letter.

“I cannot live with the intense tourcher [sic], torment, harassment, and the resulting psychological trauma dished out by the Dept. of Corr. staff here at Northern,” Hayes wrote in his letter, dated Sept. 29. “I was sentenced to death, not sentenced to tourcher [sic] and punitive treatment until death.”

When asked about the Hayes’ claims, Andrius Banevicius, a spokesman for the state’s Department of Correction, responded that the department “provides for the safe, secure and humane supervision of the offenders in its custody.”

The content of Hayes’ letter conflicts with intentions he prevoiusly voiced to the media: Earlier this year, the death row inmate said he promised one of his defense attorneys, Thomas J. Ullman, that he would not waive his appeals and seek execution, according to a June interview with the Hartford Courant.

Ullman, who is New Haven’s Chief Public Defender, could not be reached for comment Tuesday night.

Regardless of any promise Hayes made with Ullman, Haye’s desire to face the death penalty has been a consistent theme of his defense since July 2007, when he and his accomplice, Joshua Komisarjevski, 32, murdered Jennifer Hawke-Petit and her daughters, Hayley and Michaela. “Death for me will be a welcome relief, and I hope it will bring some peace and comfort to those who I have hurt so much,” Hayes said in court on Dec. 2, 2010.

In April 2011, Hayes filed paperwork to appeal his death penalty conviction. The appeal was required under the state’s death penalty law, said State Sen. Martin Looney (D-New Haven), who added that the state Supreme Court is still in the process of reviewing Hayes’ death sentence. Only after the court releases the original appeal can Hayes forgo his right to additional legal proceedings, Looney explained.

Looney added that in the case of Ross — who sat on death row for 18 years before being executed — legal proceedings were lengthy enough to assure that the inmate was confident of his decision.

“But at this point, it’s not even clear what Hayes wants,” he said, declining to make any predictions about the outcome of the case.

Hayes’ decision to seek execution comes six months after the state legislature passed a bill repealing the death penalty in Connecticut. The April repeal was specifically designed to be non-retroactive: It does not apply to those defendants — including Hayes — who were been sentenced before the law was passed.

But the state supreme court has agreed to consider the constitutionality of the death penalty for current inmates in light of the repeal.

“There is litigation in place now to challenge that limitation, but I am not aware that there has been any decision on the point,” said Yale Law School professor Steven Duke LL.M. ’61.

Duke, who specializes in criminal law, said Hayes’ desire to waive his appeals is “quite unusual” and questioned whether “there is any clear judicial authority on the validity of his proposed waiver.”

Duke said Hayes seems unlikely to follow the same path as Ross. In Hayes’ case, the judicial system has not yet determined whether there has been reversible error in his trial and sentencing, he added.

Duke also said he believes that reports of Hayes’ multiple suicide attempts might discourage the court from granting the inmate’s request.

“If this is true, I can’t imagine a court holding that he is competent to waive his appeal and submit to a death sentence,” Duke said. “That would be cooperating in his suicide plans.”

Still, Democratic State Rep. Mary Fritz, who represents Cheshire, Conn., said she hopes Hayes’ wishes will be granted, advancing financial reasons to hasten the execution.

“These appeals are going to cost the state millions and millions of dollars. So if [Hayes’] wishes are granted, this is going to save the State a lot of money,” said Fritz, who was one of the most noteworthy opponents of the death penalty repeal before the bill was passed in April.

Both Hayes and Komisarjevski have been convicted of murder, sexual assault from when the two men invaded the Cheshire home of William Petit and sexually assaulted his wife and two daughters before killing them and setting the house on fire on July 23, 2007. Petit was badly beaten, but he ultimately survived. For those crimes, Hayes received six death sentences and 106 years of imprisonment. Komisarjevski also faces six death sentences for capital felonies plus 140 years in prison on other counts.

Hayes and Komisarjevski are two of 11 inmates currently on Connecticut’s death row.

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