Blog Archives

My beloved home state is about to ban capital punishment…

This from the Hartford Courant:

HARTFORD, Conn. — Connecticut was poised to become the 17th state to abolish the death penalty after the Senate passed a bill early Thursday repealing capital punishment.

Gov. Daniel Malloy

The 20-16 vote came at 2:05 a.m., after more than 10 hours of debate. The measure now moves to the House of Representatives, where it has broad support. Democratic Gov. Daniel P. Malloy has pledged to sign the bill once it reaches his desk.


This brings into question what will happen to the two men convicted in the Petit murders (which I talked about a few years ago, since Dr. Petit, who was my Endocrinologist when I lived in CT and he lost his wife and daughters to these guys).

This raises the question of whether Steven Hayes and Joshua Komisarjevsky, sentenced to death for the Petit murders, will be executed. Some experts believe the courts will overturn the death sentences of all those convicted of capital crimes to make the law consistent. Will that happen?

Maybe not.

The bill stipulates that the 11 men currently on Connecticut’s death row would still face execution; capital punishment would only be abolished for those convicted of capital offenses in the future.

Another reason why Governor Perry does not deserve our respect…

Perry Event 2/1/2010

Mr. Death Penalty

From The Nation (these are exerpts…please read the whole article here):

Is Rick Perry Ready to Execute an Innocent Man?

As soon as Rick Perry threw his hat into the 2012 electoral ring, anti–death penalty critics brought up his staggering execution record as governor of Texas: 234 prisoners have been put to death under Perry’s watch, a number of whom had serious innocence claims. Most famous among them is Cameron Todd Willingham, who was executed in 2004 and whose case opened up an investigation that Perry has taken aggressive—and largely successful—measures to squash. But a lesser-known case could also haunt the governor if it reaches his desk: that of Larry Swearingen, convicted and sent to death row for the kidnapping, rape and murder of a 19-year-old college freshman named Melissa Trotter in 1998. Like Willingham, Swearingen was convicted largely on circumstantial evidence and a history of run-ins with the law. But Willingham was convicted based on the inexact science of arson investigations, whose flawed assumptions have been slow to evolve. The scientific evidence in Swearingen’s case, medical experts say, is beyond dispute—and it proves his innocence.

There’s another difference: Swearingen is still alive.

Swearingen was scheduled to die on August 18. But his execution was stayed in late July by the state’s highest criminal court, the notoriously pro-prosecution Court of Criminal Appeals, in order to have the trial court consider new evidence: Histological samples of Trotter’s cardiac, lung and vascular tissue that a growing number of doctors, including well-respected Texas pathologists, say show conclusively that Swearingen could not have killed Trotter.

But is that enough? The Swearingen case has raised questions about the intersection of science and the law: how courts and cops view science, and how decisions are made about what kind of scientific proof is “good enough” to override the type of circumstantial evidence that lends itself to the finality of conviction that Texas courts crave—especially in death penalty cases.


Three days after Trotter disappeared, police arrested Swearingen on outstanding warrants. After her body was found, Swearingen was charged with capital murder—according to the state, Swearingen kidnapped, raped and then murdered Trotter by strangling her with a single leg of pantyhose, cut from a pair, before dumping her body in the forest. Prosecutors sought, and got, the death penalty.

Yet Swearingen maintains his innocence, and his date with death has been postponed three times by the courts. At issue is the science surrounding Trotter’s death, specifically, the science of decomposition. Doctors say the histological evidence shows conclusively that Trotter had not been dead for twenty-five days when her body was found. Samples of Trotter’s tissue—taken almost three weeks after Swearingen was locked up—are consistent with that of a person dead less than a week. Despite doctors’ insistence that Trotter could not have been dead and her body left outside for nearly a month, Texas authorities remain unconvinced that this proves Swearingen’s innocence. Trotter’s parents, too, remain certain that Swearingen killed their daughter. “How long can they examine this evidence?” Sandra Trotter asked in the Houston Chronicle this summer. “From the victims’ rights view, when does this end?”


Courts in Texas have proven on numerous occasions that they do not consider scientific evidence as representing a gold standard for reliability. This has happened, infamously, in DNA cases; DNA science is considered so reliable that courts rely on it in the face of whatever circumstantial or eyewitness evidence would contradict it. In Texas, that has led so far to the exonerations of forty-four men, most convicted of sexual assaults—and more than one who had been sentenced to death.

The doctors in the Swearingen case are adamant that the science in question—histology and gross anatomy, the basic building blocks for modern medicine—cannot be dismissed. If the court rejects this evidence, they argue, they are turning their backs on the basic work done by the state’s forensic pathologists, tasked with determining both cause and manner of death, in thousands of cases each year.

So where does that leave Perry? If it turns out the man is innocent but is executed, Governor Perry looks bad, and if he’s guilty (which doesn’t seem likely) and is executed,  President Obama gets the benefit of votes from people who oppose the death penalty.

Even if Perry does stop the execution, death penalty opponents will accuse him of almost executing an innocent man.

An execution could be used to make Governor Perry look tough, or he could grant clemency to court the moderate vote… all his other executions ensure that he has the pro-death penalty vote. If he was going to grant clemency, though, he would have done it by now… and made it a big public relations event.

Guilty verdict in the first trial of the Petit murders.

Jury deliberations entered a second day today in the multiple murder trial of Steven Hayes for the 2007 invasion of the Petit family home in Cheshire, CT, that ended in three deaths. They have now come back with the verdict which has found Hayes guilty on 16 of 17 counts (apparently planned fire starting was what he was found not guilty of, but the judge says that hardly matters…he was found guilty of Murder of all three victims.) Hayes will now face a second court appearance in the penalty trial, where capital punishment will be decided or not.

Hayes was tried separately from his partner, Joshua Komisarjevsky, who has not yet faced a jury.

Connecticut has not been a heavy capital punishment state, and the next court appearance could last another four weeks to see if life in prison is held over death by injection. Dr. William Petit has made it clear tht he prefers the death penalty and will be one of the witnesses in the coming court appearance.

I have not written much about the Petit case, which happened after I had moved out of Connecticut. However, I feel somewhat connected to it as Bill Petit was my regular endocrinologist for a number of years and he is a man I have terrific respect for. He and his family were well known for their charitable work in the State and the loss of his wife and daughters was a tragedy which defies understanding.

Dr. William Peti

I understand CBS is filming a 48 Hours program on the whole case and is covering the trial. I don’t think I can bring myself to watch it. Due to this crime the world has effectively lost a great doctor (since, as I understand it, Bill Petit has pretty much given up his practice), and a great doctor has lost a wonderful family. My heart goes out to him.

Easter… Bunny or Belief?

Here we are at the height of Christian religious observation… Easter, or the application of state-decreed capital punishment to Jesus, followed by his rising three days later (on Easter Sunday, apparently) to show everyone that belief has a factual base. Considered history by believers and illusion by others, it sets the basis for the development of churches (especially those run by older men who have a taste for young boys.)

America over the decades has given us a delightful alternative to the celebration of recovery from state execution by one believed to be God;s son, that being the Easter Bunny. Behold, a rabbit who brings eggs (many made from candy) in baskets to children on Easter Sunday morning. This, of course, is one of the joys of Capitalism, spurring industries ranging from Jelly Bean Production to Greeting Cards to the manufacture of imitation grass filling for baskets.

No matter what one believes or doesn’t believe about Easter, to many of us it is the thing which hammered the final nail of rejection into participation in the holiday… or in religion in general. The fact that, over two milennia of belief, proof and disproof so many need something still to believe in.

Anyway, Here’s Obama’s Easter message. It is sad to me that we expect politicians to be believers.