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Connecticut Capital Punishment History
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Thread: Connecticut Capital Punishment History

  1. #1
    Administrator Heidi's Avatar
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    Connecticut Capital Punishment History

    Top 10 Trials of All Time in New Haven: On eve of Cheshire Petit murder trial a look back at some notorious cases

    he much-anticipated Superior Court trial of Steven J. Hayes in the 2007 Cheshire triple-homicide case, scheduled to begin Monday, brings to mind a question: What were the 10 biggest criminal trials in the history of the city?

    Some choices are easily made, such as the Black Panther trials in 1970-71 and the 2002 trial of Edward Grant, who was convicted of the 1973 murder of Concetta Penney Serra in the Temple Street Garage. But others are long-forgotten cases or ones that most people havent heard of.

    One or two of the following 10 trials might have to make way for what are shaping up to be the trials of this or the last century the Hayes trial and a separate trial next year of his co-defendant, Joshua Komisarjevsky. They are charged in the horrifying slayings of Jennifer Hawke-Petit, 48, and her two daughters, Hayley, 17, and Michaela, 11, on July 23, 2007. Hawke-Petits husband, Dr. William Petit Jr., was beaten on the head with a baseball bat, but escaped from his burning house.

    Hayes and Komisarjevsky face the death penalty if convicted.

    The Top 10 list is based on interviews with local lawyers, prosecutors and historians. It is presented in chronological order.

    1. Elizabeth Godman, 1651 and 1655: This was known as The Witch Trial. Godman was the town scold, according to one historical account. Her troubles began when she asked Mistress Hooke for a mug of home-brewed beer and the next day the whole barrel was found to be sour. Then one of Goody Thorpes chickens died, its gizzard full of worms. The trial became a certainty when Godman argued with Mistress Bishop and Bishops baby was born dead.

    But Godman withstood the public antipathy and her first trial ended with her freed under suspicion of witchcraft. Her second and third trials in 1655 ended the same way. After that final trial she was ordered to pay 50 pounds as security for future good conduct.

    2. Moses Paul, 1772: Paul was an American Indian who was accused of murdering Moses Cook at David Clarks Tavern in Bethany. Paul got mad when the tavern-keepers wife refused to serve him and threw him out. Paul assaulted the next man out the door, who was Cook. The two of them had a brutal fight, with Paul prevailing via a flat iron and a club.

    Paul was convicted in a daylong jury trial and sentenced to be hanged. But in his earnest and dying request, Paul asked that a sermon be preached at his execution by the Rev. Samson Occom, a revered figure of that time. Occom delivered a fiery oration before a huge crowd at the First Congregational Church on the Green. Thousands stuck around to watch Pauls execution.

    3. The Amistad captives, 1840: It was a dramatic journey that brought 53 Africans to the Elm City in 1839 for one in a series of historic trials. Sengbe Pieh, also known as Cinque, had led a mutiny aboard the ship La Amistad in Cuba to avoid a lifetime of slavery. But the Africans were captured off the coast of Long Island and taken to New Haven to face murder charges. While awaiting trial, they were incarcerated in cells overlooking the New Haven Green, where they drew great public support.

    Throngs crowded into Judge Andrew Judsons New Haven courtroom on Jan. 7, 1840. On the second day of the trial, Pieh testified, in an atmosphere of instantaneous silence and solemnity, according to a newspaper account. After defense attorney Roger Baldwins closing argument, Judson declared the captives were indeed from Africa and not under Cuban jurisdiction. He ordered that they be returned to Africa.

    But first the defendants had to win another round, in the U.S. Supreme Court, where they were again victorious. The case was an early victory for abolitionists. The story has become more widely known in recent years, with erection of a Pieh statue in front of City Hall, the creation of a replica of the Amistad, whose home berth is in New Haven Harbor, and a movie by Steven Spielberg.

    4. James Malley Jr., Walter Malley and Blanche Douglass, 1882 (the Jennie Cramer murder): This was one of the most notorious crimes of its time. On Aug. 6, 1881, a fisherman found the body of a young woman floating on the West Haven shore. She was Cramer, the 20-year-old daughter of a German immigrant and his wife.

    James Malley Jr., nephew of wealthy dry goods store owner Edward Malley, and Walter Malley, who was Edward Malleys son, were charged with murder. James Jr. had had a romantic interest in Cramer. The Malleys were usually accompanied by Douglass, whom Walter had met in New York.

    Prosecutor Tilton Doolittle charged Cramer had been poisoned with arsenic and he unveiled medical records to show she had been raped. The jury acquitted the defendants in less than an hour. But allegations that the Malleys had bought their freedom dogged the family for decades.

    5. Estelle T. Griswold and Dr. Charles Lee Buxton, 1962: At that time, an 1879 state law still was in place (but generally not enforced), making it illegal for anyone, even married couples, to use birth control drugs or devices, or to give medical information and advice about birth control. In November 1961, Griswold, executive director of the Planned Parenthood League of Connecticut, and Buxton, chairman of Yales obstetrics department, opened a birth control clinic in New Haven. Several days later they were arrested during a police raid.

    The defendants attorney, Catherine Roraback, argued the law violated freedom of speech, but the trial judge disagreed. The two were found guilty of violating the state law and fined $100 each. Ultimately they won their appeal in the U.S. Supreme Court: a landmark decision establishing the right of privacy and a forerunner to the Roe v. Wade ruling declaring that the constitutional right to privacy extends to a womans decision to have an abortion.

    6. The Black Panther trials, 1970-71: The whole world was watching, or so it seemed, when three members of the militant Black Panther Party went on trial for the murder of Alex Rackley, whose body was found in a Middlefield swamp in 1969. The Panthers, convinced that Rackley was a government informant, had ordered Warren Kimbro and George Sams to shoot him. Kimbro and Sams confessed and plea-bargained, agreeing to serve as witnesses.

    Lonnie McLucas, Ericka Huggins and Panther Party Chairman Bobby Seale went on trial in the New Haven courthouse on Elm Street. They had a lot of company outside: in May 1970, about 15,000 protesters jammed the New Haven Green, while 2,500 National Guardsmen were kept stationed nearby.

    McLucas was found guilty only of conspiracy to commit murder and sentenced to serve 15 years in prison. Seale and Huggins went on trial in November 1970 but it took so long to find a jury that evidence was not heard until February 1971. The charges were dismissed three months later when the jurors could not reach a unanimous verdict.

    7. Guillermo Aillon, 1973, 1979, 1984: Aillons estranged wife, Barbara, and her parents, George and Bernice Montano, were found stabbed to death in their North Haven home in August 1972. About an hour later, North Haven police stopped Aillon for having a noisy muffler and noticed a bloody knife in the back seat. Aillon said he had used it to cut roast beef at a family picnic; the officers, unaware of the slayings, let him go.

    Aillon was convicted of the murders in 1973 but this was overturned by the state Supreme Court because the trial judge had conversed with a juror during deliberations. A second trial in 1979 ended with a hung jury. But a third jury convicted Aillon in 1984. He is serving a sentence of 75 years to life.

    8. James Fleming Jr., trials in 1992, 1993: When the body of Christian Prince, a 19-year-old Yale sophomore, was found in front of St. Marys Church on Hillhouse Avenue in the early morning hours of Feb. 17, 1991, it shook the Yale community and the public. Although a suspect, 17-year-old Fleming, was caught, there was no clear resolution despite two trials.

    After a key witness recanted his police statement that Fleming had shouted, I should shoot this cracker! and then did so, the first jury in May 1992 found Fleming guilty of conspiracy to commit robbery but not guilty of murder. Jurors could not agree on felony murder (murder during commission of a felony) and attempted robbery. In March 1993 a second jury found Fleming not guilty of felony murder and attempted robbery. He received a nine-year sentence for the conspiracy conviction.

    Princes shooting death spurred Yale officials to install new emergency street lamps and late-night shuttle buses that continue to this day.

    9. Edward Grant, 2002: The reputation of downtown New Haven and its parking garages for being unsafe lingers in no small part because of the brutal daytime stabbing death of 21-year-old Concetta Penney Serra in the Temple Street Garage on July 16, 1973.

    Although there were other prominent suspects in the slowly unfolding case, Edward Grant, 56, of Waterbury, was finally charged with Serras murder in June 1999. A thumbprint from a tissue box found in Serras car matched one Grant had given during a 1994 domestic violence arrest. His DNA then was found to match blood on a handkerchief found near Serras keys.

    On May 28, 2002, after listening to evidence for almost a month and deliberating for nearly three days, a jury found Grant guilty of Serras murder. He was sentenced to serve 20 years to life in prison.

    10. Jonathan Mills, 2004: In one of the most brutal and shocking crimes ever seen in Connecticut, drug abuser Mills, 27, fatally stabbed his former aunt by marriage, Katherine Kitty Kleinkauf, and her two children, Rachael Crum, 6, and Kyle Redway, 4, in their Guilford home. The crime occurred in December 2000. Mills also strangled 20-year-old Mindy Leigh at the Guilford Fairgrounds in October 2000.

    Mills went through a six-week trial in which States Attorney Michael Dearington sought the death penalty. His opponent in the courtroom was Public Defender Thomas Ullmann; the two are meeting again Monday in the Hayes trial.

    The jury delivered a guilty verdict in September 2004 after three days of deliberations. But in the penalty phase, the jurors spent five days before deciding not to have Mills put to death. Judge Jon C. Blue, also the judge who will preside in the Hayes case, sentenced Mills to three consecutive life sentences without the possibility of release, plus 20 years.


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    The Courant's Mixed Feelings On The Death Penalty

    The Courant first ran anti-death penalty opinions more than two centuries ago. But the newspaper hasn't always been consistent in its own view on one of the great moral issues facing society.

    At times, the newspaper has seemed unable to make up its mind.

    An anonymous writer "for the Connecticut Courant" in 1791 made what seems a modern-day argument to end capital punishment, saying that "death makes no reparation to the injured, unless in gratifying their passion for revenge. By taking away life, reformation is wholly precluded. The example to others is of little use in preventing crimes."

    But by 1843, the Courant was editorializing in florid language rich with biblical citations that "we hold to the opinion that no Christian legislature who acknowledges the divine authority of the Scriptures and the obligations of the law of God can abolish the punishment of death for the crime of murder."

    Until 1929, the newspaper seemed ambivalent about capital punishment, acknowledging that executions were troubling but also worrying that killers would crowd prisons if they didn't face the threat of death.

    The editorials concentrated instead on recommending more humane methods for executions and on moving hangings out of the public arena, to make them less of a "demoralizing," error-prone spectacle.

    An 1876 editorial reported that "the best proposal ever made was that of the Scientific American that a great electric spark be applied to the victims and that they be shocked to death. It is sure, instantaneous and uniform."

    An 1882 editorial said that "the public hanging must be abolished They turn the most awful function of human justice into a holiday amusement."

    An example of the newspaper's mixed feelings on capital punishment was a 1919 editorial that said "sentiment against capital punishment is strong" and jurors were sentencing murderers to life in prison instead. But the public was learning that "lifers are likely to go crazy [and] the cry now is to let life prisoners expect to be let out after a while, thus saving their minds.

    "In other words, murder increases, but the punishments for it continually decrease too. Perhaps the latter explains the former condition."

    In 1928, the Courant wrote, "We believe that when capital punishment is used more frequently, we shall have fewer murders and that our present aim should be not to abandon it, but to apply it."

    The turning point came in 1929, when a graphic news story about a hanging so disgusted Courant Editor Maurice Sherman that he came out swinging against the death penalty by any method. In a series of editorials that winter, he wrote of the "inherent fallacies of the death penalty" and quoted, approvingly, former Sing-Sing prison warden Lewis E. Lawes:

    "He is today, as a result of his studies and observations, convinced that capital punishment is a tremendous mistake. Not only does he find fewer homicidal crimes in states which have abolished the death penalty that in those, comparable in character, where it is retained, but he says, 'No punishment could be invented with so many inherent defects.'"

    Another editorial that year argued that there were more homicides in states with the death penalty and quoted a Windsor Congregational pastor as saying that execution "seems to me to be matching one horrible murder by another."

    The following year, Mr. Sherman, evidently repulsed by the execution of a woman in Arizona, wrote: "We have hanged men, we have electrocuted and shot them, stifled them to death in lethal chambers. Yet others continue to murder, and will continue to do so. [W]ould we not be wiser to substitute life imprisonment for a form of punishment that is brutally inconsistent with the avowed ideals of a Christian civilization?"

    Even so, the ambivalence continued. A March 1959 editorial advocated execution for serial killers: "Indeed it is time to refine our state laws on the subject, to confine capital punishment to those few beasts in human form who kill repeatedly."

    But by June 1981, the editorials had returned to advocating the abolition of the death penalty, and would continue to do so: "Frustration over the growing crime rate is understandable, but the death penalty would not curb that rate. Anger over the assassination, and attempted assassination, of the president or other high federal officials is understandable, but the death penalty would merely compound the atrocity."

    Death Penalty Editorial: Feb. 22, 1930
    Death Penalty Editorial: May 21, 1959

    Death Penalty Editorial: June 16, 1981

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