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October 8, 2010

Connecticut lawyers considering cost "defense" to hold off death sentence for multiple murderer

A high-profile capital case in Connecticut, in which Steven Hayes has now been convicting in the murders of Jennifer Hawke-Petit and her two daughters, has much of the northeast discussing and debating the death penalty.  And, as detailed in this local article, defense attorneys are adding another notable dimension to the debate:

In their fight to persuade jurors to spare the life of Steven Hayes, his lawyers are considering an unusual strategy: citing economic reasons for keeping the convicted triple murderer off death row.

Court papers outlining the defense plan and a possible motion by prosecutors requesting the use of unsworn victim-impact testimony — allowed in sentencing proceedings in murder cases in Connecticut, but not during the penalty phases in capital cases — would have to be made by 1 p.m. today....

Before his trial, Hayes offered to plead guilty to the killings of the Petit family in exchange for a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of release. His attorneys have said the offers were rejected. Prosecutors have declined to comment....

As part of the defense evidence, Blue said during Tuesday's hearing, Hayes' lawyers will ask him to consider allowing an expert to testify about whether the price of sending Hayes to the death chamber will be more costly than locking Hayes up for the rest of his life.

New Haven Public Defender Thomas J. Ullmann, one of Hayes' attorneys, tried unsuccessfully to use a similar strategy in another capital case six years ago. In that case, Ullmann filed a motion asking a judge to force the state to accept a plea bargain that would guarantee life in prison instead of a seat on death row for Jonathan Mills. Mills was convicted in 2004 of fatally stabbing Kitty Kleinkauf more than 40 times and stabbing her children Rachael Crum, 6, and Kyle Redway, 4, about 10 times inside their Guilford home before stealing Kleinkauf's credit card to buy cocaine.

To bolster his argument, Ullmann claimed that it would be more expensive to sentence Mills to death because a guilty plea would cut 10 to 15 years of legal wrangling and appeals that a sentence of death would probably yield. Blue, who was then presiding over Mills' case, denied Ullmann's motion. The jury voted against executing Mills and sent him to prison for the rest of his life.

During Tuesday's hearing, Blue said that a prosecution motion seeking the use of victim-impact testimony during the penalty phase could also be filed today.

October 8, 2010 at 07:51 AM | Permalink

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Comments

10-15 years of appeals? What state does he think he's in? We'd be lucky if we could execute an inmate in 25-30 years. Sedrick Cobb, our inmate closest to execution, has been stuck in legal limbo at the end of his state appeals since 2007, and he was sentenced to death for rape and murder in 1991.

Posted by: MikeinCT | Oct 8, 2010 11:38:31 AM

If defense counsel pursues this course, I would call him to the stand and ask him what his client plans to do to reduce the cost he says is such an enormous burden.

The defendant's using cost as a "justification" for a more lenient sentence -- when he plans there and then to create as much cost as he possibly can -- bears more than a little resemblence to the fabled story of the fellow who kills his parents and then demands mercy because he's an orphan.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Oct 8, 2010 1:33:34 PM

Bill, which part of the fabled story is supposed to resemble the cost of exercising recognized constitutional rights?

Posted by: Michael Drake | Oct 8, 2010 3:03:16 PM

That the defendant has a constitutional right to put on a "cost" defense (assuming that he does) says nothing about how much sense the defense makes.

A person who insists on framing public cost as a reason to avoid the DP is going to look not a little hyocritical if and when the jury realizes that, as soon as they go home, he's going to do his damndest to increase the cost he was just bemoaning.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Oct 8, 2010 6:30:44 PM

Bill, I quite agree that this kind of framing might not be great strategy in a jury trial.* But that's an answer to a question I didn't ask.

*After all, if a former Assistant United States Attorney finds it hard not to confound the issues... [/ribbing]

Posted by: Michael Drake | Oct 8, 2010 9:34:01 PM

There is good moral, intellectual, and public policy support for the family of the murder victims to beat the ass of the defense lawyer, and of the judge if he rules in her favor. No one is looking out for the victim or their family.The defense lawyer is evil in his zealous defense of evil. Defense lawyers are supposed to get the innocent out of legal trouble. Is his client innocent, and falsely accused? If not, zealousness is evil. A good ass whipping will send a message to this awful profession, as a spanking would a two year old. To deter.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Oct 9, 2010 11:24:30 AM

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