Despite Death Penalty Repeal, Conn. Hands Down A Death Sentence
Saturday, June 14, 2014
On Sept. 7, 2006, Richard Roszkowski chased after a 9-year-old girl named Kylie Flannery. He shot her three times, ultimately killing her, as well as two adults.
Last month, a Connecticut judge sentenced Roszkowski to death for the crimes — despite the fact that the state eliminated the death penalty in 2012.
"This is a terrible sentence," Judge John Blawie said at the sentencing hearing. "But it is in truth, sir, a sentence you wrote for yourself on Sept. 7, 2006."
The penalty left Connecticut in an interesting situation. Three states — Connecticut, New Mexico and Maryland — have abolished the death penalty, but only for those crimes committed after the repeal was passed.
According to the Death Penalty Information Center, Connecticut is the only state to have sentenced someone to death after repealing the death penalty. The state supreme court is considering whether that is unconstitutional.
"To even proceed along these lines now just seems to me ridiculous," says Thomas Ullmann, a public defender. He represented one of two men convicted of killing a mother and her two daughters in an infamous 2007 home invasion case in Cheshire, Conn. Both men are now on death row.
"So we've made a decision to not proceed with the death penalty, and we still are. I don't get the distinction," Ullmann says. "I think it's unconstitutional — the supreme court is obviously going to deal with that. I think it's going to be an issue in both this state and federally for a long time."
Ullmann contrasts Roszkowski — who killed three people — with Adam Lanza, the gunman at the 2012 massacre at the Sandy Hook Elementary School, who killed 26.
"Take, for example, the Newtown case," Ullmann says. "Had that young man who killed himself survived, he could not have faced the death penalty."
But Kevin Kane, the state's top prosecutor, says "it's not really complicated." He thinks lawmakers didn't leave any room for interpretation.
"They very clearly and very recently voted that the death penalty should apply, or does apply, to any case committed before April of 2012. We can't say, 'Well, gee, they repealed it, so it must mean that it can't be sought anymore.' "
This means the death penalty could still be used for the 11 people on Connecticut's death row, as well as for anyone who may have committed a crime before the repeal in 2012.
While he says there is no ambiguity in the law, Kane originally counseled the state legislature against such a prospective repeal. He told lawmakers that he wouldn't seek the death penalty for a hypothetical crime that occurred the day before the repeal became effective. Doing so would seem arbitrary, he said, and he wouldn't feel right doing it.
But now, the law is the law. "We've taken an oath to uphold the law as the legislature passes it, and that's our obligation," Kane says.
Kane says the legislature is a direct expression of the voice of the people. Yet Connecticut's record is another expression of the state's attitude toward capital punishment. Even when it had the death penalty, Connecticut rarely executed people – putting only one person to death in more than 50 years.