Do You Believe in the Death Penalty? Watch HBO’s The Cheshire Murders

HBO: The Cheshire Murders: Synopsis.

Do you remember where you were when you first heard about the Cheshire murders? It was a home invasion of the Petit family that took place in Cheshire, Conn. in July 2007 that sent the mother to a bank to withdraw funds while the rest of the family was being held hostage at the home.

The mother and two daughters were killed, the father was brutally beaten in the head with a bat and their house was fully engulfed in flames when the police arrived on the scene.

As the suspects were making an attempt to flee they were stopped by the police and taken into custody: Steven Hayes and Joshua Komisarjevsky.

Both suspects agreed to plead guilty for life without parole (LWOP) but the prosecution rejected their offers and pursued death sentences; under Connecticut law, the death penalty cannot be imposed without a trial.

At the time, Connecticut’s legislation was debating to abolish their death penalty but when this particular case came up, that debate stopped. In 2009 the legislation voted to abolish the death penalty. Citing the Cheshire case, Governor Rell vetoed the bill.

However the Connecticut legislation did vote to end the death penalty again in 2012, and it passed, so the Hayes and Komisarievsky will probably never be put to death.

Which means the Petit family and the families of Hayes and Komisarjevsky sat through the trial, day after day and heard everything. Every horrible thing, for nothing.

To make things even worse, there was serious doubt about the competency of the Cheshire police. Family members wanted answers and didn’t get them. But when the defense received the police logs they discovered that the police were on scene for almost 30 minutes, watching the house, setting up their perimeter.

During that time, the strangulation of Jennifer Petit occurred, the rape of Jennifer Petit occurred, the pouring of gasoline occurred and the setting of the fire occurred.

The HBO documentary originally aired in July of last year but it’s available On Demand anytime. I recently watched it and was stunned by the feelings I had regarding the death penalty.

Recently there’s been coverage in the national news about some executions that have gone wrong. The most recent was in Oklahoma where Clayton Lockett died not from an execution but from a heart attack 43 minutes after his actual execution began.

A new and previously unused drug combination had been used and the UV line made the vein collapse, causing the drugs to either be absorbed into tissue or leak out or both. Apparently there wasn’t another vein available nor were there enough drugs available to start over, which didn’t really matter because Lockett died eventually.

He had been given the death penalty for shooting Stephanie Nieman and then watching as two others buried her alive in 1999. Groups who feel the death penalty should be abolished were up in arms because they felt the botched execution of Clayton Lockett was cruel and inhumane. But shooting Stephanie Nieman and burying her alive wasn’t cruel and inhumane?

The drug used was midazolam and it’s tied to two other cases that were botched, in addition to the Oklahoma execution. It’s made by several drug companies in the U.S. Oklahoma used midazolam to render Lockett unconscious and then attempted to inject another drug to paralyze him and a third to stop his heart. He suffered “vein failure” making it hard to administer the rest of the drugs.

Florida and Ohio have also had cases where midazolam caused problems. Usually executions use thiopental and pentobarbital. The makers of these two drugs worried about them being associated with “capital punishment” so they cut back their availability for executions, leading some states to turn to midazolam. This has caused the makers of midazolam to change their distribution agreements and bar sales to correctional departments.

On Death RowMainly because the companies who make midazolam would prefer to … “make it to enhance and save the lives of patients …” and they …”object to the use of their product in capital punishment.” Which brings up the definition of the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which the Supreme Court bans procedures that pose “serious harm” when compared with “known and available alternatives.”

But others will argue the Constitution doesn’t outlaw pain in executions or demand that execution methods always be foolproof.

What are the facts? What about Life Without Parole (LWOP)? Life without parole is swift, severe and certain punishment. Sentencing people to death by execution is three times more expensive than sentencing them to die in prison. And if we make a mistake by sentencing an innocent person to death, it can’t be fixed.

Victims’ families prefer LWOP. Unlike death penalty cases, LWOP sentences receive no special consideration on appeal, which limits the possibility they will be reduced or reversed. A person sentenced to die in prison receives only one automatic appeal, not several, and is not provided any court-appointed attorneys after this appeal is complete, usually within two years of the initial sentence. (ACLU)

Want some certainty? Watch the documentary The Cheshire Murders. Listen to Joshua Komisarjevsky confess about sexual assaulting Michaela Petit; not once but three times. Michaela was the youngest Petit, she was 11. Put yourself in the shoes of the family.

How many other states has the same law that Connecticut does; that the death penalty cannot be imposed without a trial? This trial found both of them guilty when they wanted to plead guilty. Then there was another phase where their lawyers pled for life in prison instead of the death sentence.

The death penalty process for Hayes and Komisarjevsky will cost more than $7 million, and is projected to last over a decade. If the State of Connecticut would have accepted the guilty pleas of Hayes and Komisarjevsky when it happened they would have been locked up 3 weeks after the crime and would have never been heard from again.

What a bunch of crap, considering the outcome. In April 2012, shortly after the trials, Connecticut abolished the death penalty for all future cases, making it unlikely that Hayes and Komisarjevsky will ever be executed.

Dr. William Petit started the Petit Family Foundation out of the tragedy of the murders. In August of 2012 Dr. Petit remarried, to Christine Paluf, and moved to Farmington River, Conn. In August of 2013 they welcomed a baby boy and named him William Petit III.

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