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November 8, 2010

Connecticut sentencing jury deliberating at length in high-profile capital case

As detailed in this new Wall Street Journal piece, which is headlined "Jury Slow to Agree on Sentence for Murderer: At Issue Is Whether Steven Hayes Will Receive Death Penalty or Life in Prison," the jury involved in the high-profile death penalty case in Connecticut seems uncertain about what sentence it wants to impose. Here are the basics:

The same jury that quickly convicted Steven Hayes of killing a mother and her young daughters is having a harder time deciding on his sentence.  The jury completed its third day of deliberations Sunday and is expected to continue deliberations Monday.  At issue is whether Mr. Hayes gets life in prison or the death sentence.

Judge Jon Blue had asked the 12 men and women to deliberate through the weekend in hopes of streamlining the case.

The jury's notes during the weekend suggested the group was divided over whether there were mitigating factors that impaired Mr. Hayes's mental state during the killings.  If the jury finds that there were, Mr. Hayes will receive a life sentence.  A unanimous decision from the jury is necessary for the sentence....

The jury took about five hours in early October to determine Mr. Hayes's guilt in 16 of the 17 charges he faced in the deaths of Jennifer Hawke-Petit and her two daughters in 2007.

UPDATE:  As detailed in this ABC News piece, the jury returned late Monday morning with a death sentence.

November 8, 2010 at 07:10 AM | Permalink

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The jury has imposed the death penalty, http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/40071693/ns/us_news-crime_and_courts.

Let the excuses begin!

I'll start with a proposed Top Ten:

1. America stinks and shouldn't execute anyone.

2. It's all racism.

3. The prosecutor cooked up the evidence (this is a John K special).

4. He had too many twinkies.

5. The defense lawyer was drunk through the trial and was in cahoots with the prosecutor anyway.

6. The defendant didn't get enough rehab in his numerous previous prison stints, so it's the government's fault.

7. The EU disapproves.

8. The NACDL disapproves.

9. The Innocence Project hasn't had a chance yet.

10. It's not that bad. C'mon guys. Child rape, burning them to death while tied to their beds (after the rape) -- yeah, yeah, yeah, you right wing types are always exaggerating stuff. Where's your compassion? ###

Now those are just starters, mind you. I can't wait for claudio and the usual crowd to chime in.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Nov 8, 2010 12:36:58 PM

It is amazing how knee-jerk the comments in a pretty wonky sort of blog are.

There are various death sentences that even death penalty supporters think are unjust. This includes ones where racism is an issue, the defense was flawed in some major way, there is a credible (much more than "reasonable doubt") claim of innocence, someone of a similar caliber generally is not sentenced to die, et. al. Oh, eating too many Twinkies wasn't the reason Dan White had his sentenced reduced.

America doesn't "stink" (it has its flaws) but the death penalty system (and DP itself) is flawed enough that I myself as with many others think it shouldn't execute anyone. The fact one person in decades was executed in CT is just not a matter of defense attorneys thinking up ways to block executions. I wouldn't be shocked if there was some flaw in this execution -- the fact the crime was heinous doesn't stop that -- but this is one of the more "pure" cases that goes to the value of the DP overall.

A DP however will bring with it much more than the "pure" cases. Some don't mind the risks, helped out by ridiculing them. So be it.

Posted by: Joe | Nov 8, 2010 2:22:58 PM

"execution" should be "death sentence"

I'll add that the opponents of the death penalty in general or as applied don't deny the heinous nature of the crimes at stake. It's useful to now and again read stories on both sides to remind ourselves of what is at stake. But, I don't think executing this guy is the best response.

Posted by: Joe | Nov 8, 2010 2:26:37 PM

I'm glad he's been sentenced to death but from what I know about my state's death penalty I don't think he'll be executed before his 70th birthday if ever.

Posted by: MikeinCT | Nov 8, 2010 2:35:41 PM

Trust me guys, Connecticut will never execute anyone involuntarily. It will probably be repealed soon anyway.

Posted by: DaveP | Nov 8, 2010 2:48:40 PM

Joe --

"There are various death sentences that even death penalty supporters think are unjust."

Which ability to differentiate marks the dividing line between supporters and abolitionists. Supporters do indeed oppose one death sentence or another based on the facts of the case. Abolitionists are incapable (or unwilling) to examine cases one at a time. It's an ideological, one-size-fits-all stance.

Your take on the Petit case is an illustration. You oppose the jury's judgment (having no first-hand knowledge of what they heard), yet you name not a single flaw in the prosecution or trial. You then pause perfunctorily to admit "the heinous nature of the crimes at stake" -- but of course don't tarry with that detail.

The three victims of this seven hour-long torture/murder had no such luxury.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Nov 8, 2010 3:23:32 PM

DaveP --

This is exactly the case that makes repeal impossible. Leftist contempt for the public, though massive, is not infinite, and the perils of contempt for the public are now graphically on display in the new seating chart for the House of Representatives.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Nov 8, 2010 3:26:51 PM

Bill Otis

I hope you are right. I wouldn't hold my breath though.

Posted by: DaveP | Nov 8, 2010 5:31:46 PM

bill: "America stinks and shouldn't execute anyone."

me: anyone who claims that people who disagrees with you think that "america stinks" should not be accusing others of contempt and arrogance which of course you proceed to do. glass houses and stones don't mix too well, sweetie! :P

ginny :)

Posted by: virginia | Nov 8, 2010 6:16:19 PM

Bill

unfortunately I doubt the US House of Representatives has anything to do concerning Connecticut's death penalty.
Unless their makeup changed drastically last week, I would still expect repeal. However, this Hayes case may sway some minds in the Legislature. Sometimes one big case such as this animal's, goes a long way.

Posted by: DaveP | Nov 8, 2010 6:24:21 PM

Ginny --

Read any post by claudio, and many by John K and peter, and decide for yourself whether there are those in the abolitionist camp whose basic view is: America stinks and therefore shouldn't execute anyone.

And of course I never said or implied that the "Americas stinks" theory was the sole or even the predominant abolitionist theme. For all I know, the twinkies theory has it beat.

Still, just to try to return to the substance of the matter: Do you oppose the jury's decision to give the death penalty to this defendant?

Posted by: Bill Otis | Nov 8, 2010 7:05:19 PM

DaveP --

The US House has nothing directly to do with the Connecticut legislature. Still, members of the legislature can read.

The legislative results in Connecticut were: House, Republican gain of 15 (now a 100-51 Dem majority); Senate, Republican gain of 1 (now a 23-13 Dem majority).

I don't know how close the vote on the repeal bill was.

To me, it seems like trying to repeal the DP in Connecticut in the teeth of the Petit case would be like trying to repeal the DP in the teeth of Timothy McVeigh. In that case, what happened was that more than half of those who said they ordinarily oppose the DP on principle favored it for McVeigh. Connecticut is blue but it's not crazy. These repeal bills (e.g., New Mexico and New Jersey) tend to get through only when the Dems are feeling particularly robust, and have been able to marginalize or silence the victims. Dr. Petit has courageously taken care of the latter, and last week took care of the former.

I said here a few days ago that there are no facts about the future, and that is as true as ever. Plus, you know your state better than I. But if I were betting, I would bet against repeal anytime soon in the Nutmeg State.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Nov 8, 2010 7:25:58 PM

Bill

I am from Florida. I really wonder why some states have the DP at all. Do you really think Pennsylvania, Nevada, Oregon, Kansas, and some others are ever going to have any executions unless they are voluntary? I doubt it. A lot of us in Florida were surprised at the change in Governor Crist. As Attorney General, he was known as "Chain-gang Charlie." He became Governor, Baze held things up for awhile, then he stated he was "grateful" to SCOTUS after the decision. 14 inmates have died on death row since he took office compared to 5 executions. Yet, in the campaign for Governor or Attorney General, I never heard one word about this issue. The economy was front and center.

Posted by: DaveP | Nov 8, 2010 7:51:22 PM

"Abolitionists are incapable (or unwilling) to examine cases one at a time. It's an ideological, one-size-fits-all stance."

We abolish various things, including some things that are arguably okay in some cases (age of consent comes to mind), because sometimes a one size fits all rule is the best policy.

"Your take on the Petit case is an illustration. You oppose the jury's judgment (having no first-hand knowledge of what they heard), yet you name not a single flaw in the prosecution or trial."

I noted that I think the system as a whole is bad enough that abolition is the best policy. I noted it was a pretty "pure" case but again in various cases absolute rules are in place even if single incidents are acceptable. I'm unsure what I'm supposed to be told here to change my mind.

"You then pause perfunctorily to admit "the heinous nature of the crimes at stake" -- but of course don't tarry with that detail."

Me noting the issue isn't good enough. I'm supposed to provide detail about it. Why? Because people who oppose the death penalty in general or as applied are not aware of the heinous nature of the events? You suggest it is okay to oppose it in various cases. I suppose the heinous nature of a case doesn't suddenly change it. BTW, I read the heinous details in the NYT with a picture of the happy family now dead. This sort of simplistic b.s. isn't really convincing.

"The three victims of this seven hour-long torture/murder had no such luxury."

Ditto. I oppose torturing the two people too. In each case. But, if I don't spell out their crimes, will this sort of thing be put out there too? Again, this sort of claptrap really is beneath this blog.


The three victims of this seven hour-long torture/murder had no such luxury.

Posted by: Joe | Nov 8, 2010 8:06:03 PM

DaveP --

Congratulations on living in Florida. Still, I suppose I can't complain. I live in Hawaii (in the winter).

I would not give up hope. Washington state just had an execution, and, as Doug has noted, Ohio has actually been enforcing the DP. The tiny state of Utah had an execution this year.

Arlen Specter was the most shamelessly opportunistic politician I ever heard of, until I heard of Charlie Crist.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Nov 8, 2010 8:12:35 PM

Well, since Bill Otis issued the invitation...

1. America is awesome and should be able to kill everyone and anyone any jury sentences to die.

2. It's never racism.

3. Prosecutors always charge correctly and never dissimulate.

4. No scienter, no problem.

5. As with prosecutors, defense attorneys always perform their duties with unfailing competence.

6. All economic, cultural, legal, administrative, and penological conditions must be abstracted out of any determinations about justice.

7. Enough of this "decent respect for the opinions of mankind crap."

8. Professional "ethics" rules don't matter.

9. In any given case, the chance of false conviction is close enough to zero so as to forestall any legitimate concerns about factual innocence.

10. Child rape! Burning them to death while tied to their beds!!! And raping dead, burning children!!!! Did I mention child rape????!!!! And now you watch - some arrogant left-wing loonyhippiescumbag is going to call me names. And probably accuse me of spouting unhinged, gratuitous descriptions of horrible crimes that have no discernible connection to the news story under discussion in thread. Don't you see how much contempt these America-haters have for the views of others?

Unfortunately, those are just starters...

Posted by: Michael Drake | Nov 8, 2010 8:30:54 PM

Michael Drake --

QED. I liked especially your Point 10. Joking about the crime and mocking the victims is SO COOL!!! At least you do it in public and sign your name, I'll give you credit for that.

Dr. Petit, whom Mr. Nicey beat to a bloody pulp and left for dead, might beg to differ with your spare-the-killer views here, but seeing as how he's just ANOTHER BLOODLUSTING OAF and all, don't you think he should just get lost?

Indeed, maybe you should tell him that to his face. Are ya gonna?

Posted by: Bill Otis | Nov 8, 2010 8:58:09 PM

Joe --

I agree with your last line, anyway.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Nov 8, 2010 9:05:16 PM

I thought there was about a 40-60 chance that someone on the Left might speak truth to power (the power of abolitionist orthodoxy, that is) and say, "The death penalty is a really bad idea, but is justified in this particularly vile and heartbreaking case."

Apparently it is not to be.

I guarantee you that this will not stop abolitionists from the fabulously ironic charge that RETENTIONIST thinking is insufficiently nuanced.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Nov 8, 2010 11:14:26 PM

If the judge negates the jury decision, he should be driven from the state. All product and service providers should refuse this lawyer service. If he survives this boycott, increasing pressure should be applied. The same should happen to the vile defense attorney. To deter.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Nov 8, 2010 11:24:42 PM

Joe --

I want to comment on one aspect of your last entry, since it puts the finger on exactly the crux of the issue.

I said: "Abolitionists are incapable (or unwilling) to examine cases one at a time. It's an ideological, one-size-fits-all stance."

You responded: "We abolish various things, including some things that are arguably okay in some cases (age of consent comes to mind), because sometimes a one size fits all rule is the best policy."

The observation that "sometimes" a one-size-fits-all rule is best does not, of course, advance the argument that abolitionism is one of those times. But that's not the main point. In fact, your analogy to age of consent rules is apt and deserves discussion.

In the back-and-forth on this site on sex offenses, the point is often made that, while it's one thing to punish a 45 year-old for having sex with a 16 year-old, or a 19 year-old for having sex with a 12 year-old, it's something else again to punish a 19 year-old for having sex with his 17+ year-old girlfriend. The point has been made, correctly in my view, that while age-of-consent laws generally serve a worthwhile social purpose, there are atypical cases in which a pragmatic view shows the general rule to be unsupportable by reasonable people.

Exactly the same is true in the Petit case. One might think that, given concerns about possible innocence, racism, defective lawyering, etc., the death penalty ought to be eliminated, BUT STILL reach the conclusion that in a case, like this one, in which none of these problems is even arguably present, and the atypical sadism and cruelty of the crime is breathtaking, an exception is warranted.

It's disappointing to me that none of the abolitionists here has a sufficiently pragmatic or independent turn of mind to see this.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Nov 9, 2010 11:56:13 AM

"Joking about the crime and mocking the victims is SO COOL!!!"

I was, um, quoting you there, jokester. The cool's all on you.

Posted by: Michael Drake | Nov 9, 2010 12:03:07 PM

It would be interesting, maybe, to have a reasoned discussion about the death penalty in general and in this specific case. Unfortunately, after reading the first comment in this thread, I see that's not going to happen.

Posted by: SRS | Nov 9, 2010 12:09:10 PM

Michael Drake --

Nice try. What you were quoting was my display case of ABOLITIONIST complaints, which you have doubled down on. (Not that you needed to, since my rendition was put together from abolitionist "arguments" that have shown up on this blog time after time). Still, I appreciate your doing it; I thought I'd have to wait for claudio, but you beat him to it.

Incidentally, is there any part of my factual description of the crime you believe is inaccurate? Or is this, as usual, just an attempt to needle me in order to avoid having to address the mind boggling cruelty of the defendant in this case?

Posted by: Bill Otis | Nov 9, 2010 1:50:54 PM

SRS --

I can certainly understand why you want to give yourself a pass from any substantive discussion of the case. But the reason the citizens of Connecticut wanted the death penalty here by 75-18 has beans to do with the first comment on this thread, and lots to do with the defendant's astounding behavior -- behavior you understandably refuse to so much as acknowledge.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Nov 9, 2010 1:59:28 PM

SRS --

Some people, of course, could not take a pass on whether the DP should be given in this case: The jurors. Six of them gathered to talk about their deliberations. The tape starts with a 30-second ad that I have found no way to circumvent, but then the jurors come on and talk for roughly six minutes.

I invite people to see for themselves whether what we have here is (1) a bunch of Confederate bloodlusters just waiting to string him up, or (2) normal people of conscience engaged in a serious, sober discussion of what to do when confronted with horror.

The tape is here: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/21134540/vp=40086300�. If that doesn't work, try the MSNBC (not Fox News) website.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Nov 9, 2010 2:17:27 PM

I like to be and ideological abolitionist
I am member of the Scientific Committee of Osservatorio sulla Legalità e i Diritti, I had the privilege and the honour to participate in the first congress of the Italian Section of Amnesty International: later I was one of the founders of the World Coalition Against The Death Penalty.

Posted by: claudio giusti, italia | Nov 9, 2010 3:44:02 PM

Bill -

I'm not trying to give myself a pass from any substantive discussion of the issues in this case. I was simply saying that your first comment, loaded with sneering sarcasm, is hardly an inviting precursior to such debate.

And again, there you go ascribing thoughts and arguments to other people, as you regularly do, I suppose, because when you get to make someone else's arguments for them, they're easier to knock down. I believe that the defendants' behavior in this case is repulsive and disgusting. Does that answer your question?

I have no doubt that the jurors thought they were doing the right thing. It's possible for people to have different opinions on this issue and respectfully disagree. I respect your opinion that the death penalty is an appropriate punishment in some cases, even though I disagree with it. This is how civil discourse works. That's what I'd like to see more of.

Posted by: SRS | Nov 9, 2010 3:49:57 PM

"What you were quoting was my display case of ABOLITIONIST complaints."

I wish I could say "Nice try."

"Or is this, as usual, just an attempt to needle me in order to avoid having to address the mind boggling cruelty of the defendant in this case?"

As usual, it is commentary on your propensity for turning a seminar into a food fight. You lob a bowl of Jello across the room and expect others to pose a syllogism in response? Get real.

Posted by: Michael Drake | Nov 9, 2010 4:09:49 PM

Michael Drake --

Tell ya what. Let's get real, as you say. I'll debate you live and in person on the question, Resolved: The Death Penalty Should Be Abolished.

People tend to be on good behavior in live debates. The audience (typically a law school audience in my experience) looks down on foodfights. They also tend to want to see substance rather than nifty one-liners. The debaters can ask each other questions, and take questions from those in attendance.

I have done this a few times for the Federalist Society, and for in fora sponsored by Amnesty International and the Constitution Project. I did one for the Pew Forum here, http://pewresearch.org/pubs/49/the-death-penalty-today-defend-it-mend-it-or-end-it.

You seem to have experience litigating, so this should be right up your alley.

You imply that I'm an overzealous, nasty-tempered, jello-tossing dope. If that's the case, you'll have no trouble dispatching me, and making me look bad in the process.

What do you say?

Posted by: Bill Otis | Nov 9, 2010 5:16:41 PM

SRS --

You seem to be a conscientious person, so I would just ask that you consider my argument further up the thread at Bill Otis | Nov 9, 2010 11:56:13 AM. I believe it's about the tenth one above this.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Nov 9, 2010 5:31:28 PM

"You imply that I'm an overzealous, nasty-tempered, jello-tossing dope."

You say that as if it's a bad thing.

I'm flattered by your invitation, Bill (and that's no sarcasm), but I'm a research and writing attorney, and frankly much more comfortable "on the briefs." Aside from which, I completely grant that you are a capable and even well-behaved advocate when you choose to be. (Your argument at 11:56:13 being an example; your unbidden stretto of straw men at 12:36:58 not so much.) My beef is that you so choose so infrequently.

Posted by: Michael Drake | Nov 9, 2010 9:58:31 PM

Michael Drake --

Make them let you get into court more. It's fun and I'm sure you'd be good at it (and that's no sarcasm).

Sometimes my mission is to analyze (11:56:13 being an example), and sometimes it is to expose (12:36:58). The two are different. My own view, which I would not expect you to share, is that abolitionism has largely reduced itself to cookie-cutter set-pieces. It was to preempt (and, I readily admit, make fun of) such pieces that I wrote the latter.

A more creative approach to abolitionism is exemplified by Prof. Carol Steiker of Harvard and her brother Jordan Steiker of Texas. I debated them at his campus a few years back. They're both honest and clever, which is a good mix for an advocate.

Abolitionists don't need, and won't take, advice from me, but here it is anyway: Their arguments aren't getting traction. All the polling finds that DP support is at a steady two-thirds. It's been that way for years (I'm skeptical of the 83% support shown by the Angus Reid poll Doug has posted).

I don't think abolitionism can (or should) win as long as there are cases like this Petit atrocity -- which means forever. But the current ground game is going nowhere. Time for a change. The argument is much stronger if it would make room for occasional exceptions. When it's NEVER, EVER it's just a real hard sell except to the already converted.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Nov 10, 2010 12:02:47 AM

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