Capital punishment in Connecticut

Capital punishment in Connecticut formerly existed as an available sanction for a criminal defendant upon conviction for the commission of a capital offense. Since the 1976 United States Supreme Court decision in Gregg v. Georgia until Connecticut repealed capital punishment in 2012, Connecticut executed one individual, although the law allowed executions to proceed for those still on death row and convicted under the previous law, but on August 13, 2015, the Connecticut Supreme Court found that applying the death penalty only for past cases was unconstitutional, definitely emptying Connecticut death row.


Between 1639 and 2005, Connecticut performed 126 executions. Twenty-four executions occurred in Connecticut Colony, prior to its statehood. The remaining 102 executions occurred after Connecticut's 1788 admission to the Union as the fifth state.[1] Contrary to popular belief, Adonijah Bailey was not the oldest person executed at age 79 in 1824; instead, he was tried and sentenced to death at age 80 in January 1825 for the murder of Jeremiah W. Pollock, and hanged himself on May 24, over two weeks before he was to be executed.[2][3] The oldest person executed is Gershon Marx, hanged on May 18, 1905, for murder at age 73.[4]

Modern era

After Furman v. Georgia, Connecticut reinstated the death penalty on January 10, 1973.[5] Lethal injection became the method mandated to execute condemned prisoners, replacing the electric chair, which had not been used since Taborsky's execution in 1960.

Unlike most of the other states, the Governor of Connecticut cannot commute the death sentence imposed under State law or pardon a death row inmate. This is determined by the Board of Clemency, on which the Governor does not sit. The other states where the Board has sole authority are Georgia and Idaho.[6]


On May 22, 2009, the Connecticut General Assembly passed a bill that would abolish the death penalty, although it would not retroactively apply to the eleven current Connecticut death row inmates or those convicted of capital crimes committed before the repeal went into effect. The bill was vetoed by Governor Jodi Rell.[7]

On April 11, 2012, the Connecticut House of Representatives voted to repeal capital punishment for future cases (leaving past death sentences in place). The Connecticut Senate had already voted for the bill, and on April 25 Governor Dannel Malloy signed the bill into law[8] That made Connecticut the 17th state in the US without a death penalty, and the fifth state to abolish capital punishment in five years.[9] In 2015 the state Supreme Court ruled found that applying the death penalty only for past cases was unconstitutional, definitely emptying Connecticut death row.[10][11]

Cheshire murder case

One notable death penalty case in Connecticut was the Cheshire home invasion murders. On July 23, 2007, Jennifer Hawke-Petit and her two daughters were raped and murdered, while her husband, Dr. William Petit, was injured during the home invasion.[12] The two murderers Steven Hayes and Joshua Komisarjevsky were both sentenced to death for the crime, and were among the inmates who have their sentences reduced as result of the state supreme court ruling. Survivor Dr. Petit condemned the state's decision to abolish the death penalty and spare the two criminals.[13]

Capital crimes

Murder with special circumstances, also called capital felony, was the only capital crime in Connecticut.[14] These include any of the following:

  1. Murder while the victim was acting within the scope of his duties, a police officer, Division of Criminal Justice inspector, state marshal exercising his statutory authority, judicial marshal performing his duties, constable performing law enforcement duties, special policeman, conservation or special conservation officer appointed by the environmental protection commissioner, Department of Correction (DOC) employee or service provider acting within the scope of his employment in a correctional facility and the perpetrator is an inmate, or firefighter
  2. Murder committed by a defendant who is hired to commit the same for pecuniary gain or murder committed by one who is hired by the defendant to commit the same for pecuniary gain
  3. Murder committed by one who has previously been convicted of intentional murder or of murder committed in the course of commission of a felony
  4. Murder committed by one who was, at the time of commission of the murder, under sentence of life imprisonment
  5. Murder by a kidnapper of a kidnapped person during the course of the kidnapping or before such person is able to return or be returned to safety
  6. Murder committed in the course of the commission of sexual assault in the first degree
  7. Murder of two or more persons at the same time or in the course of a single transaction
  8. Murder of a person under 16 years of age.[15]


During the 366 years between 1639 and 2005, Connecticut has performed a total of 126 executions. This averages to be approximately one execution every three years. The only person to be executed since 1960 has been the serial killer and rapist Michael Bruce Ross on May 13, 2005, for the kidnapping, rapes and murders of Robin Stavinsky, April Brunais, Wendy Baribeault, and Leslie Shelley.[16] Until the 2005 Roper v. Simmons decision, juveniles over the age of 16 could be sentenced to death because state law only required that the offender be tried in adult court to face the death penalty.

Notable executions

Several notable executions have occurred in both Connecticut Colony and in the state of Connecticut, as indicated below.

  • Gerald Chapman — Chapman, a Prohibition-era gangster known as "The Count of Gramercy Park", was the first criminal to be dubbed "Public Enemy Number One" by the press.[17] Convicted of the October 12, 1924 murder of police officer James Skelly in New Britain, Chapman was hanged by upright jerker on April 6, 1926 at the state prison in Wethersfield.
  • Serial killer Michael Bruce Ross — The execution of Ross in 2005 was the first and last in Connecticut (and in all of New England) since 1960. It was also the only execution administered by lethal injection in Connecticut and New England. Ross was convicted of murdering eight girls and women between 1981 and 1984 and raping seven of them.

Death row

The male death row was located at the Northern Correctional Institution. In 1995 the male death row moved from Osborn Correctional Institution to Northern.[18] The execution chamber was located at Osborn.[19] The York Correctional Institution housed all female prisoners in the state, but no women were on death row.[20]

See also


  1. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on February 4, 2009. Retrieved 2009-05-30.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  2. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on October 14, 2012. Retrieved 2010-12-05.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  3. The Telescope, June 4, 1825. The Telescope. June 4, 1825.
  4. "[Deathpenalty]death penalty news-CONN., ALA., MISS., KY., USA". Retrieved July 21, 2016.
  5. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on May 23, 2015. Retrieved 2015-06-15.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  6. "Clemency | Death Penalty Information Center". Retrieved July 21, 2016.
  7. "Rell Votes to Veto Ban on the Death Penalty in Connecticut". The New York Times. Retrieved July 21, 2016.
  8. "Connecticut governor signs bill to repeal death penalty". FOX News Network, LLC. April 25, 2012. Retrieved April 25, 2012.
  9. "Connecticut House Votes to Repeal Death Penalty". The New York Times. Retrieved July 21, 2016.
  10. Pete Williams. "Connecticut Supreme Court Overturns Death Penalty in State". NBC News. Retrieved August 13, 2015.
  11. Mark Berman (August 13, 2015). "Connecticut Supreme Court says the death penalty is unconstitutional and bans executions for inmates on death row". Washington Post. Retrieved August 16, 2015.
  12. Gardner, David. "'Things got out of control': Chilling confession of Connecticut massacre 'killer'." The Daily Mail. September 23, 2010. Retrieved on April 6, 2011.
  13. Casey, Nicholas (August 14, 2015) Connecticut Death Penalty Ruling Stirs Painful Memories for 3 Grisly Killings. The New York Times. Retrieved August 16, 2015
  14. "Crimes Punishable by the Death Penalty | Death Penalty Information Center". October 30, 2002. Retrieved July 21, 2016.
  15. "Connecticut - Abolishment of the Death Penalty - Death Penalty -". August 8, 2012. Retrieved July 21, 2016.
  16. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on October 22, 2007. Retrieved 2007-09-28.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  17. "The First "Public Enemy Number One"". Smithsonian National Postal Museum. Retrieved January 19, 2010.
  18. "DOC: Northern CI". Retrieved July 21, 2016.
  19. "Administration of Capital Punishment Directive Number 6.15" (PDF). Connecticut Department of Correction. October 19, 2004. Retrieved August 16, 2010. Execution Area. A series of four (4) contiguous rooms in the Osborn Correctional Institution comprised of the...
  20. "DOC: York CI". Retrieved July 21, 2016.
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