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Nonfatal death penalty should be abolished

When Connecticut’s nonfatal death penalty is debated, it is often noted that the state has executed only two men since 1960 and one of them, Michael Ross, volunteered. But the other one, Joseph Taborsky, volunteered too. Ross put an end to further appeals in 2005 after 18 years on death row, saying he didn’t want to inflict any more anguish on the survivors of his eight victims. Taborsky, the so-called “mad dog killer,” waived his right to appeal right after his sentencing in 1957 for six armed robbery killings and was executed three years later. So it turns out Frank Wojculewicz, who tried and failed to appeal his death sentence before being executed in 1959, was the last person who fought the death sentence and lost. Wojculewicz murdered a New Britain police officer and a bystander during a robbery in 1951 and was executed after eight years of futile appeals. There’s more to his story. Wojculewicz had been shot and paralyzed from the waist down by the officer he had killed and had to be wheeled into the death chamber of the old Wethersfield prison. “Because of his physical condition, an extension was added to the front of the (electric) chair, making it look like a beach recliner,” The Hartford Courant reported. Eighteen men died in that electric chair since the state stopped hanging people by the neck until dead in 1937, and Ross was killed by lethal injection in the death chamber at the Northern Correctional Institution in Somers. That adds up to 19 men and no women put to death in Connecticut in the past 75 years. Over the centuries, there have been 104 white, 10 American Indian, seven black, two Asian and three persons of unknown origin executed by the state. Nine of them were women, including Hannah Ocuish, an 11- or 12-year-old Pequot Indian child hanged in New London in 1786 for killing the daughter of a prominent white family during an argument over strawberries. She is believed to be the youngest person ever executed in America and is also believed to have been mentally challenged.Despite these horror stories, Connecticut hasn’t engaged in much official killing when compared with other states. From the time the Connecticut colony began hanging witches in 1639, we’ve had a total of 126 executions in 403 years, according to various sources. George W. Bush did better than that when he executed 131 people during the five years he was governor of Texas.And speaking of Texas, the Journal Inquirer reported last week that Connecticut’s Department of Correction has sent at least one death row guard to Texas to check out new developments in the art of lethal injections. Texas, with its record-breaking execution rate, is the home office of state-sponsored killing. The trip to Texas was ordered because only two of the volunteers who fatally injected Ross still work for the Department of Correction. It is not known if the others have retired or moved on to states where they would have a greater opportunity to practice their craft.The death penalty could be partially abolished this year by the passage of a bill now before the General Assembly but it would leave the 11 men currently awaiting execution on death row. This bill, which has the support of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, could run into problems in the Senate. Sen. John Kissel, an Enfield Republican, told the Journal Inquirer the “vast majority” of his Senate Republican colleagues might stage a filibuster because of their fear that repeal might spare the killers of the three members of the Petit family, Stephen Hayes and Joshua Komisarjevsky.Even though the bill would retain the death penalty for the pair and the others now awaiting execution, Kissel said that doesn’t satisfy his caucus. They fear that passage of this bill could still spare those now awaiting execution because some judge could decide “evolving societal standards have changed.”Of course, some judge could do that at any time, and might if the Legislature doesn’t have Connecticut join the other civilized states and nations that have abolished this barbaric practice. Simsbury resident Dick Ahles is a retired journalist. Email him at dahles@hotmail.com.

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