I poked my head into the courtroom in which jury selection drags along, draining the state’s coffers of needed cash, in the case of State v. Komisarjevsky. The courtroom was all but empty. There were two layers on each side, all looking weary. And to the far right, taking it all in, sat Dr. William Petit, Jr. The doctor sat surveying the proceedings with an almost proprietary air. He must have these deaths, you see. And we must give them to him.
I poked my head in the chambers of a judge in the building on my way out. "I popped in on the Komisrajevsky trial," I said. "The room reeks of entitlement. There’s something wrong with spending all this money when the state is verging on bankruptcy and we’re laying off people for this boutique killing."
The judge nodded in agreement. The courthouse reeks of weariness over these show trials. Both defendants in the 2007 Cheshire home invasion have offered to plead guilty if the state will stand down on death. But Dr. Petit wants them dead. No one in the state appears to have the ability to say no to the suffering doctor. The show trials must go on. Oprah demands it.
Add to the list of the befuddled the superannuated senator from Prague, Edith Prague. Although she supports repeal of the death penalty, the 85-year-old senator doesn’t want to vote for repeal just now. Why? Dr. Petit paid her a visit. "I want to give this man a little ounce of consideration here and that’s my reason at this point in time to not support the repeal. ... I could not for a second cause this family any more stress." Huh?
I am tempted to observe that Prague is now well beyond her prime, and might, perhaps, turn her sentiments and skills to a more suitable line of work: the organization of Friends of the Library bake sales comes to mind. But that would be unkind. I am sure all her cylinders still fire, sort of sure, that is. But this little bit of special pleading repels. A lawmaker with an ounce of sense could have sympathized with the Petit family’s desire for vengeance without throwing state workers and public policy to the howling dogs of rage.
It will costs millions more to pursue the death penalty as to Komisaryevsky and his co-defendant Steven Hayes, than it would be simply to incarcerate them for the rest of their natural lives. So as layoff notices were send to some 4,700 state workers this week because the state could not afford to pay them, did Senator Prague stop to consider whether boutique justice for the Dr. Petit is good public policy? No. What’s a few thousand jobs have to do with the satisfaction of primitive rage?
If Senator Prague weren’t on the verge of senescence she might have considered the following. All are obvious or truisms, but they add up to a truth almost everyone seems afraid to utter: No person can be a judge in their own case. We turn the prosecution of crimes over to professionals – police and prosecutors – because we know that private vengeance wastes public resources. The death penalty has been abandoned as inhuman in almost every other democratic society, and in many states in the United States. Letting a victim, even a popular victim, in this case, a white, upper-middle class physician from an idyllic bedroom community, call the shots is a form of special pleading that ought to be repugnant in republic committed to equal justice for all, including people of color, the less privileged and those dwelling in inner cities.
Senator Prague means well, but saying no to a person who has been destroyed by grief really ought not to be that difficult. Yes, the doctor wants the men who killed his wife and children dead. Who wouldn’t want death if there family were the victims? But the death penalty solves nothing. It is savagery, a dance around the Maypole after the adults have gone to bed and we’ve become addled enough to think the Moon will respond when we howl at it unison.
It’s time for Senator Prague to pack it in. Perhaps she’ll be good enough to take Dr. Petit with her. We simply can’t afford, either morally, or financially, the cost of indulging this man’s rage. Someone, please, put the rest of us out of his misery.
Reprinted courtesy of the Connecticut Law Tribune.