Let me see if I understand this: Requiring Joshua Komisarjevsky’s daughter to testify in the death-penalty phase of his trial might harm her psychologically, but it is just fine and dandy for the state to kill her father?
Lawyers for Komisarjevsky plan to call their client’s nine-year-old daughter to the stand, presumably to shed some light on something other than the ten-hour period in his life in which he participated in the savage murder of two children and their mother, crimes for which he has already been found guilty.
The state opposes permitting the child to testify. Criminal courts are no place for children. The adversarial, hostile nature of the proceeding might cause harm, the state says. Far better to prosecute an abstraction called "Evil" than to permit the jury to see the human side of the killer.
You won’t get any argument that kids don’t belong in court from me. Courtrooms are horrible places. Children have no place in them. But the state uses children as complaining witnesses all the time. And the Connecticut Code of Evidence recognizes that children can be competent witnesses. State’s Attorney Michael Dearington is just spouting hypocritical nonsense when he feigns concern over the welfare of Mr. Komisrajevsky’s daughter: His office would not hesitate to put a nine-year-old child on the stand if it thought the child were the victim of a crime.
The real issue has little to do with the welfare of this child. The real issue is whether Mr. Komisarjevsky’s daughter has relevant and material evidence to offer. Isn’t she just being offered to tug at the heart string’s of the jury? Isn’t such a blatant appeal for sympathy to be avoided in a court of law?
Lawyers speak in a crabbed language. Evidence is material if it is helpful in proving or disproving a fact at issue. Relevant evidence tends to support or undermine a material fact. In the penalty phase of the a death-penalty case, the defense is permitted to produce any evidence it can muster to shed light on the character of the accused.. The United States Supreme Court permits even appeals to mercy in the penalty phase.
The state has needed little assistance in demonizing Mr. Komijarsevsky. The shocking and horrible nature of his crimes has been the mainstay of two highly publicized trials. The surviving victim of the home invasion, Dr. William Petit, Jr., has pleaded with the governor, law-makers and others not to repeal the death penalty. All he wants is justice, he says. As though killing Joshua Komisarjevsky and his co-defendant, Steven Hayes, will balance any scale.
Who will sit with Mr. Komisarjevsky’s daughter and tell her that justice required that her father be put to death? Will State’s Attorney Michael Dearington do it? Will the governor do it? Will Dr. Petit do it? Will the mob of those rolling their eyes in white-hot rage pull her aside and tell her that she is better off with her father cold, dead and buried?
Connecticut law requires that a person convicted of a capital felony spend the rest of their life imprisoned. Mr. Komisarjevsky will be absent from his daughter’s life in almost all of the ways that matter. He cannot clothe her, feed her and provide her shelter. His is not a life she can consider as a source of guidance. He has forfeited the right to all these things, and she will suffer for it. But what measure of justice requires that we kill a child’s parent? She should have the right to seek him out as she ages and matures. She should have the choice to come to him and to ask what manner of man slaughters a family? She should not grow with the gnawing fear that the state can kill the only father she will ever have.
It would simply be cowardice on the court’s part to refuse to require this child to testify. If the burden of sitting in a courtroom to be questioned by men who have decided it is their sworn duty to kill her father is too harrowing for this child, then why not take the moment to reflect on what this trial has become: a farce, where passion and prejudice are dressed down into the sterile language of aggravating and mitigating factors, but the subplot is as raw as an open grave. We want to kill Joshua Komisarjevsky because his crime terrifies us and disgusts us. We sympathize with Dr. Petit and his loss. We want to kill because it feels good.
That’s not justice. No one will grieve for Mr. Komisarjevsky’s daughter when her father’s eyes make their final roll and he lies slack on the executioner’s table. She’ll have nowhere to turn for her justice: no public trial, no appearance on Oprah Winfrey to discuss how she feels, no press conferences and meetings with governors and politicians. We’ll forget about her, and hope that she forgets about her father. He was evil, we will tell her. Justice required that we kill him. You are better off not thinking about him, we will say. And we will ignore her sorrow.
She will mature, silently, without the benefit of a grand public finale for her grief, no ritual signifying "closure." She will rage at the fates for depriving her of a father and no one will listen. I say let her testify in her father’s trial. Let Mighty Michael Dearington stand in the well of the court and tell her why her father has sacrificed the right to live. Let the jurors assembled take responsibility for the light they are asked to extinguish in this child.
I’ve never met Joshua Komisarjevsky and I doubt I ever will. I do not love him. I have no sympathy for him. But he is a father despite my feelings about him. Killing him renders his daughter an orphan. I say she should have the right to seek him out on her own terms and in her own way – she’ll know where to find him. Killing him is savagery; refusing to hear from her at trial is cowardice.