Connecticut's Supreme Court ruled Thursday that the state's current death penalty law is unconstitutional.
The decision spares the lives of 11 inmates already on the state's death row who were subject to execution even though state lawmakers passed legislation repealing capital punishment in 2012. That law applied to all future cases, not capital crimes committed before the legislation was enacted.
The court effectively closed that loophole with a 4-3 vote.
Connecticut Supreme Court Justice Richard Palmer wrote for the majority:
"Upon careful consideration of the defendant's claims in light of the governing constitutional principles and Connecticut's unique historical and legal landscape, we are persuaded that, following its prospective abolition, this state's death penalty no longer comports with contemporary standards of decency and no longer serves any legitimate penological purpose. For these reasons, execution of those offenders who committed capital felonies prior to April 25, 2012, would violate the state constitutional prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment."
As The Associated Press reports, "The ruling comes in an appeal from a 12th inmate, Eduardo Santiago, whose attorneys had argued that any execution carried out after the 2012 repeal would constitute cruel and unusual punishment. Santiago, whose first sentence was overturned, faced a second penalty hearing and the possibility of lethal injection for a 2000 murder-for-hire killing in West Hartford."
The justices ordered a new penalty phase for Santiago, saying the trial judge failed to disclose "significant and relevant" mitigating evidence for jury consideration before jurors decided in 2005 to send Santiago to death row for the killing of Joseph Niwinski.
The Hartford Courant notes that "the last person to be executed in Connecticut was serial killer Michael Ross, and that execution occurred in 2005 only after Ross waged a legal fight to end his appeals and to have the sentence imposed."
Currently, 19 states and the District of Columbia have outlawed the capital punishment according to the Death Penalty Information Center.
The latest state to repeal the death penalty was Nebraska. As the Two-Way reported in May, it was the first Republican-controlled state to do so since the Nixon administration.