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October 13, 2010

Costs of capital punishment getting the spotlight in Connecticut case

As detailed in this local article, which is headlined "Steven Hayes Defense Outlines High Cost Of Putting Someone To Death," the significant economic costs of capital punishment has moved from policy debate into a legal argument in one high-profile case.  Here are the interesting details:

Steven Hayes' defense attorneys, in a bid to spare his life, say they have evidence that counters "the popular assumption that the cost of executing someone saves the state money" compared with a life sentence.

They cite reports that offer these statistics:

  • In Tennessee, death sentences in murder cases cost 48 percent more than life sentences.
  • In Washington state, death penalty cases cost $470,000 more in defense and prosecution costs than non-capital murder cases.
  • In North Carolina, it costs $2.16 million per execution more than it costs for a non-capital defendant sentenced to life in prison.

These are among the reports that they are expected to put forth today in their fight to convince a Superior Court judge that he should let them use the unusual strategy of arguing economic reasons to keep the convicted triple murderer off death row. The defense claims that sparing Hayes' life will save the state and taxpayers "many millions of dollars."

In a legal memo filed Tuesday, the defense lawyers said recent polls show that support for the death penalty "drops off dramatically" when people learn of the cost difference between executions and housing a convicted killer for life.

The defense plans to call an expert who has written a report about what Connecticut spends on executions vs. life sentences.  Its memo says the testimony could be "for purpose of mitigation or as support" for Hayes' pretrial offers to plead guilty "or for re-butting the intuitive common understanding by the public, and therefore jurors that the imposition of the death penalty … is less expensive than life without the possibility of release."

Today's hearing is in preparation for next week's penalty phase, in which jurors will decide whether Steven Hayes, 47, of Winsted, lives or dies for the July 23, 2007, killings of Jennifer Hawke-Petit and her daughters, Hayley, 17, and Michaela, 11, during a break-in, robbery and arson at their Cheshire home.

New Haven Public Defender Thomas J. Ullmann and Patrick J. Culligan, head of the state Public Defender's Office capital defense unit, said they want to use the expert testimony to support Hayes' repeated offers to plead guilty to the slayings in exchange for a life sentence....

During the penalty phase, jurors will weigh mitigating factors against aggravating factors to determine if Hayes should be sentenced to death by lethal injection.  Recent court filings show that the aggravating factors the state intends to prove are that Hayes killed Hawke-Petit and her daughters during the commission of or immediate flight from the commission of a felony — third-degree burglary — and that Hayes committed the murders in "an especially heinous, cruel or depraved manner" and "knowingly created a grave risk of death to another person."  Testimony about the cost of life in prison vs. death could be a mitigating factor for jurors to consider.

Prosecutors plan to argue against use of the expert testimony on the cost issue.  In legal papers, New Haven State's Attorney Michael Dearington and Senior Assistant State's Attorney Gary W. Nicholson say "the evidence of costs of execution is irrelevant and not mitigation evidence and such cost-benefit analysis of the death penalty is a matter of public policy for the legislature."

Ullmann 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.... 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 death sentence would probably yield.

Judge Jon C. Blue, who is presiding over Hayes' trial, denied Ullmann's motion.  The jury voted against executing Mills and sent him to prison for the rest of his life.

October 13, 2010 at 12:41 PM | Permalink


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Posted by: neanderthal | Oct 13, 2010 9:51:54 PM

These excessive costs should come from a surcharge on lawyer license renewals. Given the horrible costs of this profession to every breathing being, those who generate them should shoulder some of the costs. I estimate $50,000 should be the cost of a biennial lawyer license. These frivolous appeals may go on and on at no cost to the taxpayer.

As to justice and safety, the families of murder victims should hunt the defense lawyers and the judges generating this make work, frivolous rent seeking thievery, and just beat their asses. To deter. These are crooks.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Oct 14, 2010 12:02:29 AM

Vengence = Justice and it is true that you can't put a price on that.

Posted by: steph | Dec 30, 2010 8:03:37 PM

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