It has been open season on Joshua Komisarjevsky since the day he was arrested in July 2007, and for good reason: There is little doubt that he slaughtered a mother and her two daughters in their home. He also beat the man of the house, Dr. William Petit, Jr., senseless. It is no wonder that many want to kill the killer. It was a savage crime.
At least one book has been written about the case. Dr. Petit has opined at great length about the evil of it all, even appearing for a national audience on the Oprah Winfrey show. And when lawmakers in Connecticut sought to repeal the death penalty, Dr. Petit lobbied against the measure. He wants Stephen Hayes and Joshua Komisarjevsky dead. So might I were my family slaughtered. I would be unstrung by the senselessness of it all. But I would no expect my private rage to become the lodestar of public policy.
Dr. Petit has been free to speak, to lobby, to start a foundation, to utter whatsoever he will to whomsoever is prepared to listen. He is a victim, after all, and our state constitution gives to victims the right to be heard at all stages of the proceedings. Oddly, however, despite his right to appear and be heard in judicial hearings, the law imposes no responsibilities on the man. The court has imposed a gag order on the parties to the action, the prosecution and Mr. Komisarjevsky and his counsel. No gag order reaches the good doctor. The jury has been selected in Mr. Komisarjevsky's case. Trial is set to begin in early September.
And so justice is mocked. A man presumed innocent is ordered to be silent. A man bent on revenge killing is permitted to speak out, to call the defendant evil, to rally a public afraid of every bump in the night. Mr. Komisarjevsky, who has offered to plead guilty to many of the crimes charges, crimes that would require him to spend every last day of his life behind bars, cannot speak. He cannot be heard. Only the complaining witness, Dr. Petit, can speak. Many are the court officers who watch this case with the wearying sense that we cannot be put out of Dr. Petit’s misery soon enough: At a time of budget shortfalls and austerity, we indulge him this pursuit of death as though the killing will accomplish anything more than did the murder of the doctor’s family. We become the very sort of savages we attack.
Last week, Mr. Komisarjevsky’s lawyers filed a motion for permission to have Mr. Komisarjevsky make a public statement. The statement was printed in a motion filed in court. The statement quotes the Gospel of John, Mother Theresa, Mahatma Gandhi, Jesus -- no mean collection of moralists. It asserts that Mr. Komisarjevsky has, in fact, expressed remorse for the killings. It refers to the horrific abuse the young man suffered as a child. It reminds us that behind the caricature painted by Dr. Petit stands a human being.
No confidential information is contained in the motion. It is a humanist’s appeal to our better nature, an eloquent appeal on behalf of those who believe that the state has no business killing. It reminds, as Gandhi taught, that “an eye for eye makes the whole world blind.”
According to the New Haven Register, the motion was filed and before anyone could hear argument on whether it could be granted, Superior Court Judge John Blue ordered the motion sealed until at least Monday. The Register reported that the judge did so because “sealing is necessary to preserve an interest that overrides the public interest in seeing the material.”
I was provided a copy of the motion before it was ordered sealed. I am sitting right here looking at it. To suggest it contains material so sensitive the public interest in seeing it is overridden in the name of some unspecified interest is patent nonsense. What next, an order removing from our libraries the works of those who view capital punishment as a form of barbarism? I am not sure who issued this sealing order, but, surely, its author ought as a penalty for this improvidence to be required to read, not merely possess, works authored by the authors referred to in the motion.
I was promptly notified that the motion was ordered sealed. Because I am a lawyer and an officer of the court, I do not reprint it here today, tempted as I am to do so. The order sealing pleadings refers to the parties, not to me. But out of a decent respect for an order of the court, I will not reprint the motion today. I am hoping that the light of reason dawns in court tomorrow, and that Judge Blue realizes that meeting a widespread and virulent campaign to persuade the world that Joshua Komisarjevsky is evil, without redeeming characteristics, and therefore ought to be killed, can and should be met with a simple declaration that the man is human, that no one is the sum of their worst moments, that the world’s moral and religious leaders have condemned as savage the penalty of death. The sealing order is tantamount to requiring we live in a fool's paradise, where the best the world has taught is to be regarded as too dangerous to read.
There is nothing in the motion filed on behalf of Joshua Komisarjevsky that shocks or outrages. What does amaze is that anyone actually reading the motion could assert that it is objectionable. The court looks less like an impartial umpire in the handling of this motion than it does like a minister of death. Shame on whoever issued the sealing order.
I remain hopeful that it will be ordered unsealed on Monday. If it is not, I may well reprint it here, unless the court wishes to order me silent as well, in which case I will challenge that order, a right we all have. Let's see if the court is prepared not just to kill Joshua Komisarjevsky, but public debate on the death penalty as well.