Despite a judge’s ruling that a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the death penalty could not be changed to reflect Connecticut’s capital punishment repeal, a lawyer for one inmate on death row said Tuesday he expects that no one will be executed in Connecticut as a result.
Lawyers had wanted to argue that the state’s decision to repeal capital punishment for all future crimes was unconstitutional, but Superior Court Judge Samuel Sferrazza ruled last Thursday it would bog down the underlying lawsuit.
The underlying lawsuit, which has been pending for years, rests upon the claim that Connecticut’s death sentence is imposed arbitrarily, with racial and geographic factors making certain offenders more likely to be sentenced to death.
But Sferrazza sided with lawyers from the Chief State’s Attorney’s Office, who asked the judge to deny the request to change the lawsuit. In his decision Sferrazza said the new claim was too different from the lawsuit’s underlying argument and would further delay a case that was scheduled to go to trail back in June.
“The proposed amendment would add a challenge to the use of the death penalty which is predominantly a legal argument attacking the legitimacy of the nonretroactivity of the repeal,” Sferrazza wrote.
“It is the very terms of the legislation which petitioners, in part, assail. Such an assault on the death penalty can effectively be presented on direct appeal or in separate, and individualized, habeas petitions,” he continued.
Even in light of the judge’s ruling, David Golub, a lawyer representing death row inmate Sedrick Cobb, said he didn’t expect his client or anyone else to be put to death by the state as a result of the legislation.
“I think ultimately no one is going to be executed in the state of Connecticut,” he said Tuesday.
Golub said he and attorneys representing other inmates on death row haven’t decided yet how they will challenge the constitutionality of the new law, but he was confident that they would.
“The issue is going to be raised one way or the other,” he said.
But Sferrazza said it will need to be by some means other than the longstanding lawsuit. He said allowing that entirely new claim to be inserted into the case would slow it down. The trail was supposed to begin in June. Sferrazza said the scheduled days were “set in stone.” But medical issues with one of the lawyers prevented it from moving forward. Now the judge said he saw no benefit in trying to “cram” a new claim into the case when the trial is now scheduled to start in September.
“This court cannot allow such a novel claim to divert this litigation from the path charted by the Supreme Court. One can easily envision that the respondent would seek additional time to prepare for the new claim. New rounds of pleading, discovery, depositions, and legal research would ensue,” Sferrazza said.
There are currently 10 men on death row for crimes they committed before the legislature passed the repeal in April. Golub said he doesn’t expect them to be executed, nor does he expect anyone else to be sentenced to death for pending murder cases that occurred before the bill’s passage.
“What jury is going to give the death penalty knowing that state has repealed it?” Golub asked.
In a separate motion, Sferrazza also ruled Thursday that Eduardo Santiago, whose death sentence was recently vacated on appeal, could no longer be a party to the lawsuit because he was no longer sentenced to be executed.
“The court dismisses Mr. Santiago’s claims without prejudice for him to resurrect these issues in a separate habeas petition if he, once again, is sentenced to death,” the judge wrote.