State v. Hayes: Opening Day Forecast
Snipers will prowl the roof of the New Haven Superior Court this morning just as they have on other occasions when Steven Hayes appeared there. These lawmen will peer up and down the streets of the Elm City making sure that no one gets a free shot at Mr. Hayes. It is a given that many folks in the state want him dead. It is the job of these SWAT team members to make sure that he is killed in the right way, at the right time, and by the right folks.
Standing between Mr. Hayes and death are Thomas Ullmann and Patrick Culligan, the two senior public defenders appointed to defend him. Saving Mr. Ullmann from the verdict of an angry jury's lethal verdict won't be easy. I expect a packed courtroom of folks sporting for blood. The evidence against Mr. Hayes is overwhelming. He and a co-defendant did kidnap, rape and murder a mother and two daughters after beating the man of the house and leaving him for dead. As the two killers fled the scene, they set the family's home afire. It was as though Satan escaped the confines of Hell one night and stormed Eden.
Mr. Hayes will be convicted of most, if not all, of the crimes for which he has been charged. That is a foregone conclusion. The real question is whether he will be sentenced to death. A betting man would be prudent to bet that the jury decides to kill him; but I doubt Mr. Hayes will be sentenced to die. That is because I expect Dan Malloy to win the November election for governor, sometime before evidence in the case closes. Mr. Malloy is a death penalty opponent, you see. He is expected to welcome legislation to abolish this state-sponsored savagery. The incumbent, N. Jodi Rell, vetoed a law repealing the state killing, citing in particular the Hayes case.
As trial opens, the court will permit opening statements. Such statements are rare as a matter of Connecticut criminal procedure. Mr. Hayes offered to plead guilty to capital felonies, but state law does not permit him to agree to death. So the trial goes forward as scheduled today, a gruesome prime-time farce.
Mr. Ullman will open for the defense. Here's the closing I expect:
"Ladies and gentlemen, all of you have by now heard or read about this case. The basic facts are uncontested. A family was destroyed in July 2007, and with their destruction all of us lost the peace of mind that comes of the assurance that simple hopes and dreams are sacred: A warm home, a loving family, beautiful children growing strong and confident in the shade of their parents' strength.
"There is no doubt that Stephen Hayes cut this family down. He fled from the scene in the family car as the home burst into flames he and a co-defendant set. You will see horrible evidence of his handiwork in this trial. There will be photographs you will wish you never saw. Even text messages and photos will record this particular brand of savagery. You will see this and you will grow numb with shock; when the shock recedes it will be replaced by anger. And finally, you will be brought to a place in which you, too, will be ready, willing and able to kill. The state will ask you to kill Stephen Hayes, and I suspect that you will want to do so.
"I know this because Mr. Hayes has already walked this road of rage and remorse. He has offered in this case to plead guilty because he is guilty. But our law says that he cannot enter this plea. The law requires a man faced with death to fight for his life. It is an odd law, if you think about it. A man who wants to plead guilty cannot do so if the state seeks the death penalty because a guilty plea is tantamount to suicide. So we summon you and gather the community together in this room for the weeks and months to come so that State of Connecticut can gather every gory and shocking detail of an uncontested terror and parade it before you in an open courtroom. We call this horror justice.
"Mr. Hayes offered to plead guilty because he is guilty. But the state, these prosecutors sitting here behind me and to my right, they want you to kill Mr. Hayes. They want you to see what he did: see the blood of innocent children, hear the screams of a mother's despair, smell their flesh burning. They will even offer remnants of clothing for you to touch. Your senses will be engaged here in an effort to inflame your sensibilities. I predict, ladies and gentlemen, the state will succeed in inflaming you.
"Mr. Hayes wants to plead guilty, and so he has, by act, word and deed. He hoarded medication in his cell, and swallowed what he hoped would be a lethal dose of pills not long ago. Perhaps you read about it. The state did not let him die. The state chained him to a bed so that he could be nursed back to health and brought here to trial. To kill Mr. Hayes must be a thing of justice. He is our fatted calf, to be offered up in rage and anger and self-righteous fury by you in a trial in which you must first find him guilty, and then find that he must die. I suspect my client will sit here day by day wishing he had succeeded in taking his own life. The prosecution won't let him: You can't die unless we have the pleasure of killing you. This is a sick and twisted ordeal, I tell you.
"Old lawyers refer to some trials as a slow guilty plea. So this one shall be. We will have few questions in this, the guilt phase of the trial. We will let the state find a voyeur's pleasure in recreating the crimes. You will see the state has spared no expense to do this task, a task we want nothing more than to spare the state, and you. But the prosecution insists that this show go on. It is necessary, you see, to go through this to bring you to killing fields all your own. Mild and unassuming as these prosecutors are in demeanor, they bring the cold-hearted determination to kill to these proceedings. They wish nothing more than to make you accomplices in an act the law will not permit them to commit without your help.
I suspect Lady Justice sheds a silent tear behind her blindfold this morning.
"Mr. Hayes is a killer. He tried even to kill himself. For all I know he will try again during this trial. He has lived this Cheshire horror once, and does not relish its replay here for you. He sought to avoid it. But the state kept him alive so that you can have the satisfaction of killing him yourself.
"In the penalty phase of the trial, we will wage the fight the law requires us to wage. We will ask you then to let him live. By then you will know things about pain, grief and things without names that you cannot even imagine now. You will know then what it is like to kill, and to glory in the killing. I will ask you then to put aside the savage lust for revenge and to stand aside. There has been enough death in the case to sate the state.
"Thank you for listening to me. I can see that you are sober and serious minded people who have come here to do justice. In this case, we will ask that you lock Mr. Hayes away for the rest of his natural life. I won't insult you and say that such punishment is more savage than a painless death at the hands of the Department of Corrections, a death supervised at arm's length by physicians, a death far kinder than Mr. Hayes' victim's endured. That would be an insult to you, to the memory of those killed, and to the heart-broken rage of Dr. William Petit, who must somehow find a way to survive these crimes.
"But I will ask you to avoid in the name of justice once again dipping clean hands into warm blood. This trial, ladies and gentlemen, is unnecessary. We fight it because we must. The law permits nothing less when the state seeks to kill a man. I welcome you this sad September morning to the killing fields of justice, where vengeance prowls, and reason is left chained unseen and weeping that we are such mortals as require this theater, a performance designed and intended to do nothing other than to reduce you to a state in which you overcome your revulsion over the thought of killing another, and decide to become killers yourself.
"Welcome to Hell, ladies and gentlemen."
And with that, he will turn the case over to the prosecution. A wise lawyer, a lawyer cut from the mold of Clarence Darrow in his defense of Leopold and Loeb, would say little in defense of Mr. Hayes in the guilt phase of the trial. Recall that Leopold and Loeb was a court trial: What would, or could, have Darrow said to a jury? The real fight here is to save a life and to prevent twelve more people from growing too comfortable with the taste of blood on their lips.