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November 21, 2011

Connecticut Supreme Court upholds death sentence against various challenges

As detailed in this local press report, Connecticut's "state Supreme Court on Monday upheld the death sentence imposed on Todd Rizzo, convicted of beating a 13-year-old boy to death with a sledgehammer because he wanted to know how it felt to commit murder." Here are the basics of the ruling:

Rizzo, represented by the state public defenders office, appealed on nine grounds, from the way he was sentenced to death to the constitutionality of the death penalty. The state's high court, in an 86-page decision written by Chief Justice Chase T. Rogers, ruled against Rizzo on every issue.

Justice Peter T. Zarella wrote a one-paragraph concurrence. Justice Flemming L. Norcott, Jr. wrote a three-page dissent in which he said that he continues to "maintain my position that the death penalty has no place in the jurisprudence of the state of Connecticut."

The opinion for the court in this case is available at this link and it begins this way:

The defendant, Todd Rizzo, appeals from the judgment rendered by a three judge panel, following a penalty phase hearing held pursuant to General Statutes (Rev. to 1997) § 53a-46a, sentencing him to death for the murder of a thirteen year old victim, Stanley G. Edwards.  The defendant claims on appeal that: (1) his waiver of a jury for the penalty phase hearing was constitutionally invalid; (2) the presiding judge at the penalty phase hearing should have disqualified himself due to bias; (3) the absence of a specific intent requirement in the aggravating factor found by the panel renders his death sentence unconstitutional; (4) the panel’s finding of an aggravating factor lacks evidentiary support; (5) the method of establishing mitigating factors pursuant to § 53a-46a (d) violates the eighth amendment to the United States constitution; (6) the panel’s finding of a single cumulative mitigating factor but no individual mitigating factors was improper; (7) the panel improperly weighed aggravating and mitigating factors and determined that death was the appropriate punishment; (8) the death sentence was the product of passion, prejudice and other arbitrary factors; and (9) the death penalty is a per se violation of the state constitution.  We disagree with each of these claims and, accordingly, affirm the judgment sentencing the defendant to death.

November 21, 2011 at 03:06 PM | Permalink

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Comments

Sounds like this guy got super due process and competent counsel. I wonder what "Judge" Chatigny thinks of the death sentence. This case will languish for another 15 years. Why victims' families should be put through this is beyond me. These sentences need to be carried out.

Posted by: federalist | Nov 21, 2011 4:55:03 PM

Read the dissenting opinion. What a mish-mash of utter stupidity and moral preening. As we go down "an ever more lonesome road." Spare me the maudlin nonsense.

What is it about judges? The death penalty makes so many of them look so utterly ridiculous. This dimwit says that the death penalty makes no sense? Well, dimwit, most of your fellow citizens think otherwise. I'm sure this turkey of a judge fancies himself a moral arbiter--in reality he's an arrogant clown.

Posted by: federalist | Nov 21, 2011 5:16:38 PM

federalist

was that the direct appeal? The murder was in 1997?
The footnotes are like another opinion in itself. I think Chatigny will be long gone by the time this one gets into US District Court. Connecticut's DP law is a useless statute. It will never get carried out unless it is voluntary.

Posted by: DaveP | Nov 21, 2011 6:33:54 PM

federalist

I see it was sent back for resentencing. Eight years from the time they vacated the death sentence in 2003.
Slow justice, if ever.

Posted by: DaveP | Nov 21, 2011 6:45:18 PM

Thanks DaveP--did not know that. Why these scolds feel they have the right to put victims' families through this is beyond me. This may sound impolitic, but I hate these arrogant judges. I really do.

Posted by: federalist | Nov 21, 2011 7:21:50 PM

I can't wait to hear why the DP is disproportionate punishment for a guy who beats a 13 year-old to death with a hammer in order to see what it feels like.

In truth, though, I'll have to concede that the DP is disproportionate here, but only because the Eighth Amendment, not to mention the constraints of civilized life, does not allow a penalty that would actually be proportionate.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Nov 21, 2011 8:12:34 PM

That these judges choose to compound the pain of victims' families with the long, drawn out appeals process is, in itself, evil. And the cynicism of Governor Brown and Attorney General Harris is appalling. That these people choose to inflict pain on people who simply had the misfortune to be the family members of murder victims says a lot about them. Personally, I find them unfit for polite society.

Posted by: federalist | Nov 21, 2011 8:22:46 PM

"That these judges choose to compound the pain of victims' families with the long, drawn out appeals process is, in itself, evil. And the cynicism of Governor Brown and Attorney General Harris is appalling. That these people choose to inflict pain on people who simply had the misfortune to be the family members of murder victims says a lot about them. Personally, I find them unfit for polite society."

What is your position when the family of the victim opposes the death penalty?

Posted by: The Death Penalty Sucks. | Nov 21, 2011 10:28:51 PM

TDPS --

"What is your position when the family of the victim opposes the death penalty?"

The same as yours when the family of the victim supports the death penalty -- namely, that the family is entitled to be heard but not to be controlling.

Now what is your answer to the earlier question, which asked DP opponents to tell us why the death penalty is disproportionate punishment for a guy who beats a 13 year-old to death with a sledgehammer in order to see what it feels like.

The shear brutality and coldness of such a thing is simply mind-bending. Do you disagree?

Posted by: Bill Otis | Nov 21, 2011 11:21:29 PM

TDPS, my guess is that even when the victims' family opposes a death sentence, protracted proceedings are harmful as well.

Posted by: federalist | Nov 22, 2011 8:23:08 AM

federalist --

What they're going to say is that there won't be protracted litigation if we have just LWOP. And as usual, what they say won't be true.

We already know that, the minute the DP is abolished, the push will be on to repeal LWOP as well, as it's merely a slow motion DP offering no hope of redemption. And the very same groups who now devote their energy to litigating death sentences will simply shift to litigating LWOP.

As we have seen here so many times, the central, underlying idea is that the country is just way, way too punitive, and that criminals are at least as much victims as perps. Thus the litigation war against holding criminals accountable, and in favor of reversing the crime reduction trend of the last generation, will continue full blast.

When you hate the country, you want it to be plagued with more crime. This isn't rocket science.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Nov 22, 2011 9:12:59 AM

bill: "I can't wait to hear why the DP is disproportionate punishment for a guy who beats a 13 year-old to death with a hammer in order to see what it feels like."

me: There are at least three perfectly rational porportionality arguments one can make against the death penalty in this case.

Rational argument one - LWOP is a worse punishment than death. If you believe that LWOP is the worst punishment which can be given to a person, then it is perfectly rational to argue that LWOP is appropriate and porportional to the crime in this case. There are very few worse crimes than a thrill killing.

But that leads to:

Rational argument two - While the death penalty is worse than LWOP, it should be reserved only for people who kill multiple victims because LWOP is adequate punishment for a person who kills once. As bad as this crime was, it only involved one victim and therefore death is disportional to the crime.

And of course, there is:

Rational Argument three - Because killing is immoral, there can be no justification for the state to ever kill as punishment for a crime. Whether the death penalty is porportional or not really does not matter in this analysis because any execution is categorically opposed.

Obviously argument number three is primarily a religion based argument - but I would hope that you would not call an argument irrational becauase it is based on personal religious beliefs which are held by millions of people.

Now for what I believe, obviously, I believe in three - I oppose execution on moral/religious based grounds. Therefore, porportionaility simply does not apply. Its not my place to judge whether death is an appropriate punishment for someone or not.

There, I gave you a serious answer to your question. Feel free to mock me :P

Posted by: virginia | Nov 22, 2011 1:20:39 PM

Virginia,

There really is no logical basis to your argument.

You cannot hold the below positions simultaneously unless you are making the case FOR barbaric/immoral punishments:

1) The DP is barbaric/immoral.

2) LWOP is worse punishment than the DP.

3) We should use LWOP instead of the DP.

Posted by: TarlsQtr | Nov 22, 2011 3:26:41 PM

virginia --

Each of your arguments standing by itself* is non-frivolous, and each is conclusory. I'll briefly address only the last, however.

"Rational Argument three - Because killing is immoral, there can be no justification for the state to ever kill as punishment for a crime."

The part of your sentence befoe the comma contradicts the part after it. If killing is immoral, there can be no justification for it EVER, not just as punishment.

Of course one need never get to the part after the comma, since the part before it is false. Killing most certainly is NOT per se immoral, and I am not aware of a single major religion that says otherwise. Whether killing is immoral depends on whether the good it produces outweighs the bad.

The overwhelming judgment of your fellow citizens is that, in particularly vile cases like the one in this thread, the justice to be had by executing a remorseless and sadistic thrill killer outweighs the extreme seriousness of death as a punishment.

* When your arguments are taken together, they are incoherent for the reasons succinctly stated by TalsQtr.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Nov 22, 2011 4:18:21 PM

virginia, the word is "proportional" not "porportional". You made the same mistake a few times, which would seem to negate the possibility of a typographical error.

Posted by: federalist | Nov 22, 2011 4:54:23 PM

Bill: "When your arguments are taken together, they are incoherent for the reasons succinctly stated by TalsQtr"

me: the three arguments are not met to be taken together which I told was pretty clear since neither argument 1 nor argument 2 is inheriently opposed to capital punishment - argument 2 in fact supports capital punishment for mass murderers and serial killers - while argument 3 is inheriently opposed to capital punishment. Maybe I am not that good of a writer, but I thought it was obvious from my statement that I agree with 3 that I do not agree with 1 or 2.

Bill: "Killing most certainly is NOT per se immoral, and I am not aware of a single major religion that says otherwise"

me: if you are talking about killing animals for food, then I agree. But as far as killing people, it really depends upon how you define "major religion." Christianity, for example, is much to varied in belief to have an uniform view. But there are some Christian denominations which are very explicitly against the taking of any human life - but taken on their own the pacifist denominations may not qualify as major religions. Other Christian denominations are very explicitly against premeditated killing such as capital punishment but recognize the concept of a just war and self defense. Obviously, my statement lacked nuance and should have been clearer that I was referring to the premeditated taking of human life as being immoral. And I do not really want to get into the merits of anyone's religious beliefs.

bill: "Whether killing is immoral depends on whether the good it produces outweighs the bad"

me: I find your line of thinking that there is any good at all which comes from the intentional taking of human life in a capital punishment context to be immoral. I would agree that if A is a bonafide, immediate threat to kill B, then B has the right to defend herself. I would also say that if A is a bonafide, immediate threat to kill B, C, and D, than E has the right to use force to protect B, C, and D. In those cases, it may be arguable from a moral standpoint that B and E would be justified in taking A's life to save themselves or others from an immediate threat. I do not believe that if A kills B, C, and D, and then several years later E has the right to take A's life because A is no longer a direct and immediate threat. There is a difference between an emergency situation where A is an immediate threat to human life and a premeditated killing. A premeditated killing - which capital punishment is - according to my personal regilious moral beliefs can never be justified.

I'm honestly not sure what I think about war and killings during wartime.

Because I dispute the underlying assumptions behind the deterrence theory of capital punishment, I also do not believe that there is any good which comes from capital punishment - but in fairness I would say that there might be spectulative benefits. I do believe that capital punishment has an demonstratable negative effect upon society and our legal system. Thus, even using your terms, I believe that capital punishment would be immoral because the negative effects of capital punishment far outweight the positive effects which are at best spectulative.

bill: "The overwhelming judgment of your fellow citizens is that, in particularly vile cases like the one in this thread, the justice to be had by executing a remorseless and sadistic thrill killer outweighs the extreme seriousness of death as a punishment"

me: obviously, I do not base my religious beliefs on majority rule - I would really hope that no one else would do so either :P

And since I apparently really lack the ability to make a point effectively or speak adequately, my point was that when you oppose the death penalty categorically on moral grounds, whether a case is particularly egregious or not really does not matter.

federalist: "virginia, the word is "proportional" not "porportional". You made the same mistake a few times, which would seem to negate the possibility of a typographical error."

me: given that I'm a pretty atrocious speller and lousy at typinfg, I'm sure that you have better things with your time than korrecking everry spelling eroor anbd typo that I make.

Posted by: virginia | Nov 22, 2011 6:13:15 PM

"The shear brutality and coldness of such a thing is simply mind-bending. Do you disagree?"

He's a very dangerous offender who committed a very horrible crime, which is why he should be placed in a maximum security institution for the rest of his natural life.

"We already know that, the minute the DP is abolished, the push will be on to repeal LWOP as well, as it's merely a slow motion DP offering no hope of redemption. And the very same groups who now devote their energy to litigating death sentences will simply shift to litigating LWOP."

Otis, what the hell is this nonsense? WE LOVE LWOP. Do you think we want Eric Rudolph and Richard Reid out on the streets? We want them in Florence watching TV or reading a book in a concrete cell, not in some garage down the street building a bomb.

Posted by: The Death Penalty Sucks. | Nov 22, 2011 6:42:31 PM

"Otis, what the hell is this nonsense? WE LOVE LWOP. Do you think we want Eric Rudolph and Richard Reid out on the streets? We want them in Florence watching TV or reading a book in a concrete cell, not in some garage down the street building a bomb."

Although I think Bill ought to grant that many dp abolitionists, like you, would be perfectly happy with Eric Rudolph, Richard Reid, and Todd Rizzo, serving out LWOP sentences in anonymity, surely you must grant that at least part of the abolitionist movement has taken/is taking the position that LWOP is simply a sentence to die in prison -- no different than the death penalty except slower, more passive, and arguably even more cruel, and that evolving concepts of decency forbid LWOP and require that every defendant get a customized-to-the-defendant meaningful chance at release from prison, no matter what the offense or the risk of recidivism. I do think that there are some among the dp abolition movement -- by no means all, but some -- who would argue that Richard Reid was merely some naive fellow who fell in with the wrong crowd; that his actions are at least in part a response to some social victimhood; and that it's inhumane and barbaric to keep him locked up permanently. (I'd recommend that you ask Peter, but I assume that he'd only respond with gassy generalizations about sufficiently civilized societies -- maybe he'd attach a link to an article on Amnesty International's website -- and would never, never say straight out what sentence, as a sentencing judge with broad discretion, he'd mete out to someone who attempted to kill hundreds of people by blowing up a commercial airliner in flight, or even what ranges of sentences he'd consider reasonable and appropriate and what would make him select one range as opposed to another.)

Posted by: guest | Nov 22, 2011 7:22:27 PM

I subscribe to guest's comment in its entirety.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Nov 22, 2011 11:14:05 PM

Bill, you never responded to Anonymous One's response to your initial response to the questions he posed to you in the comments section of the post on the life sentence for a CP possessor. Are you going to? I thought the dialogue interesting.

Posted by: Barkley | Nov 28, 2011 12:32:38 AM

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