Playing At Death In New Haven
And so we come, finally, to what appears to be, and what everyone certainly hopes will be, the final chapter of the trials in what will forever be known as the Cheshire home invasion case. Closing arguments are upon us in the case of Joshua Komisarjevsky, Steven Hayes already having been dispatched to death row, where he will sit for years, perhaps decades, as lawyers wrangle with one another in one court after another to make sure killing him comports with the law.
I hope you will forgive the loopy, and even Victorian, quality of the sentences in the first paragraph. It is difficult to write about this case with a sense of directness and dispatch. For two solid years, our sense of outrage has been played upon. We’ve twice now been given ring-side seats to Hell. The word evil has been tossed about so much it now sits in the room like a worn out shoe. The energy and urgency has gone out of the cases. It is not that people have stopped caring, it is that, after a point, the case had acquired the urgency of an appeal for donations at a church supper. Let’s be done with these cases once and for all.
The New Haven court staff is weary. A judge shook his head the other day at the sheer waste of it all. For two solid years, work in the courthouse has slowed to a snail’s pace. The state’s attorney’s office moves, when it moves at all, slowly. All the best effort goes toward assuring that two men who offered to plead guilty to the crime are strapped to a gurney, and poisoned. Life in prison without possibility of parole is not enough in this case. No, the state wants death. It wants to kill "evil" in the name of "justice."
Holding the crayons in this comic book world and trying valiantly to color within lines is State’s Attorney Michael Dearington. Some in his office are quick to point out that he does not really believe in the death penalty. So he ages before our eyes, hand shaking as he struts the courtroom and trying to be a steely-eyed killer. I will never understand how a civil servant can put their moral sense to sleep and kill because the law says that he can.
Dearington is not simply doing what the law requires. He had a choice. He could have accepted guilty pleas, closed the files and moved on. This is a political prosecution. If New Haven did not seek to kill here, then in what case would it? I suspect there were long conversations in his office, and with prosecutors statewide. "You’ve got to seek death here, Mike. The integrity of the criminal justice system depends on it."
It is shameful to see the Nuremberg defense revived. If you don’t believe in the death penalty because you find it wrong or objectionable, you do not seek it. Don’t tell me you’re just following orders. That’s goose-stepping nonsense.
I hope this is the final act for Dearington. I’ve known him for many years. Children of ours played high school sports together. From time to time, we’ve dropped out guard and almost regarded one another with something approaching warmth. I cannot behold the man now without my blood running cold: You seek to kill even though you do not support the death penalty? The prospect is odious. I close a door with regret to that friendship. He’ll find no comfort with me.
Yes, I hate the death penalty. The state should not have the power to take what it cannot give. Empowering prosecutors to kill is a danger rivaling the isolated and random acts of mayhem that the state prosecutes. Behold the self-righteous mob and a prosecutor wearing a hair shirt. There is nothing quite so fearful as a self-righteous mob.
I’m told that Dearington was overheard muttering the other day about whether I have a soul. It would not serve to acknowledge the sting of a poison pen in a public way. But he is apparently not happy with the barbs I have directed at him.
Yes, Mike, I have a soul, and a free and independent mind. Watching you try to muster the will to kill leads me to turn the question on you: What has become of your soul? A killer now? Just following orders? Perhaps it’s time to retire. You’ve stared into the abyss, and now the abyss has swallowed you.
Reprinted courtesy of the Connecticut Law Tribune.