Despite the recent sentencing of Steven Hayes and an October Quinnipiac University poll, which shows 65 percent of Connecticut residents surveyed support the death penalty, Rev. Walter Everett said that he believes there’s strong support to abolish it.
“We believe there’s strong support for abolition today,” Everett, whose son Scott was murdered in Bridgeport in 1987 told a group of women at New Methodist Church in East Hartford Thursday evening.
“And the new governor has said that if the legislature passes a bill he would sign it. So Connecticut might very well be the next state to go,” he said.
Everett, who lives in Pennsylvania, is touring Connecticut this week talking about the death penalty and telling the story of his son Scott and how he actually became friends with Mike, the man who murdered him.
The Connecticut Network to Abolish the Death Penalty brought Everett to the state as is looks to gain momentum for the issue prior to the start of the legislative session. It’s uncertain if legislation to abolish the death penalty will be revived this year, but in 2009 after lengthy debate it passed both the House and the Senate before it was vetoed by Republican Gov. M. Jodi Rell.
Rell decided to not seek re-election and Governor-elect Dan Malloy said on the campaign trail that he would sign prospective legislation abolishing the death penalty if it reaches his desk. He has said the legislation would not apply to those charged with capital murder before it was passed.
“We have to wait and see what happens. We can’t say with any certainty the death penalty will be abolished within the next year,” Bo Chamberlain, a field organizer for the Connecticut Network to Abolish the Death Penalty, said Thursday.
Dr. William A. Petit, the lone survivor of the attack and murder of his family by two parolees, has been an ardent supporter of the death penalty and is perhaps the most visible proponent for maintaining it in the state.
After Hayes received the death penalty earlier this week Petit stood on the steps of the courthouse in New Haven and told the throngs of media that he thinks “closure” is not possible for him. “I don’t think there is such a thing as closure. There is never closure—there is a hole with jagged edges – they may smooth over time. A hole in your heart is a hole in your soul.”
“You get closure when you buy a house, you don’t get closure when you see somebody executed,” Everett said Thursday. “Because your situation doesn’t change.”
“You don’t get closure with a sentence or the carrying out of the sentence it doesn’t bring back your family,” he added. “Dr. Petit is hurting badly and I can’t even imagine what he’s going through. I can’t say anything that I think would help him any.”
Everett said he too felt anger and rage. He said he was angry at the police for failing to do their jobs and collect enough evidence for a strong case, and again when prosecutors told him the man who killed his son would only be sentenced to 10 years suspended after five.
When Mike, the man who murdered his son was sentenced, he was given an opportunity to speak in court. Everett recalled that Mike told him that he was sorry for murdering his son Scott and wished he could bring him back. But at that point Everett said he still didn’t like the looks of him, but for some reason he felt compelled to respond to Mike’s courtroom apology so he wrote him a letter on the anniversary of Scott’s death.
When he mailed the letter Everett said he felt the burden lift ever so slightly. The two corresponded back and forth for a period of several months before Mike asked if Everett would come and visit him. But a visit came with a whole new set of emotions for Everett.
He finally got up the courage to visit his son’s killer in jail, but when he learned they had moved him from the maximum security prison to the medium security prison the rage and anger returned, Everett said.
“How could they move him so quickly,” Everett wondered. After several laps around the parking lot to burn off the anger Everett went to the medium security prison to visit Mike. At the end of the meeting the two embraced.
Years later the two actually go around and talk about their shared experience as a continued part of their healing.
“Mike and I have become friends recognizing each one of us are following the footsteps God has put us in,“ Everett said. “I believe in God’s redemptive power in Jesus Christ is available to all.”
But Everett admits his path may not be the right path for Dr. Petit.
“I’m not sure what the death penalty will do for Dr. Petit. I do know that because of our legal system Steven Hayes will not immediately be put to death. He has appeal after appeal coming.”
Everett said he doesn’t know if this applies to Dr. Petit, but he knows many victims’ families whose murderers have been put to death and many of them say afterwards “why don’t I feel better?”
“I don’t know what I can tell Dr. Petit. I just hope that someday he finds peace,” Everett said. “A peace that will enable him to pick up his life and move on.”
Everett will be speaking again 7 p.m., Friday evening at Provenance Center, 165 State Street, in New London.