The case of State v. Hayes has once again ground to a halt. A competency exam has been ordered. But Judge Jon Blue ordered an examination of the wrong party. The State of Connecticut should have been remanded to a forensic institution to see whether it is playing with a full deck. That's the party appearing to be grossly irrational. Instead, the court ordered that Mr. Hayes be examined.
Mr. Hayes, a co-defendant in the 2007 home invasion in Cheshire, has offered to plead guilty to the capital felonies and assorted charges arising from the gruesome rapes, murders and arson at the Petit household. He is willing to stand in open court and accept responsibility for his crimes.
But the state is unwilling to accept the plea if it entails waiving the right to kill him. In other words, the state wants Mr. Hayes dead. So the trial goes forward, by fits and starts. After weeks of jury selection, five jurors are seated. It will take months more of individual sequestered voir dire for the lawyers indoctrinate their way through a few hundred more jurors in search of just the right panel.
What is wrong with State of Connecticut?
I tried to find out, but, I can't find the state. I'd like to talk to it and try to reason with it. All this money on an unnecessary defense. The Waterbury Republican reports $800,000 on the defense and counting. How many millions will we spend? How much mad money is enough?
I can look for the State until my hairs turn white and my teeth fall out. I will never find it. One of the biggest cons of all in criminal cases is the manner in which we present them to juries. We announce the case as State v. the defendant. But the state is a mere legal fiction. In a criminal case, two parties drive the prosecution: the prosecutor and the victim. Both have interests that are worth pondering.
New Haven State's Attorney Michael Dearington is calling the shots in the Hayes prosecution. The laconic lawyer is the sole person who can decided whether to accept or reject a guilty plea from Mr. Hayes.
Why has the prosecutor turned a deaf ear? Ought he be subject to a competency exam? The decision is plainly irrational.
Three factors force the prosecutions hand: Politics, public opinion and Dr. Petit.
It is well known around the state that Mr. Dearington is no fan of the death penalty. New Haven rarely seeks it, and never does so successfully. That raises questions. John Connelly in Waterbury, by contrast, operates a death mill by contrast. If New Haven does not seek death in this egregious case, when will it ever? And if the penalty is freakishly and randomly applied in the state, isn't that arbitrary in violation of the Eighth Amendment? Call Hayes a political kill.
Public opinion is still red hot against Hayes. There's not much to like about the guy. Isn't killing him what the people want? But this case stirs passions because it crosses socio-economic lines. Identical facts against a project dweller in Bridgeport would not stir national passion. This is a case about the rape and murder of ambition, hope and the privileges of the upper middle-class.
And then there is Dr. Petit.
He is in some respects a sympathetic figure. He has lost all. His grief is obvious. I say he is undone by his grief. But rather than give him a quiet place to mend, he now tries to influence legislation, speaks out about the legal process, and holds forth as Connecticut's own John Walsh. What next, a co-host's role on America's Most Wanted with another man who has made a vocation of private rage? Does he suffer survivor's guilt for fleeing the home in which his family was extinguished?
In the meantime, Mr. Hayes is said to be despondent and awaits death. But the State keeps him alive. Why? So it can kill him. The storyline here? "You can't kill yourself; we want to kill you." Bizarre, twisted even. It's early yet, but this case is beginning to look like Michael Ross redux.
Competency exams are in order, all right. But Mr. Hayes is not the only person who needs one. I say dial another up for Mr. Dearington and Dr. Petit. The prosecution of this case looks more and more like an expensive farce.
Reprinted courtest of The Connecticut Law Tribune.