Steven Hayes was found in his cell this morning unconscious. He is now in a medically induced coma. Prison officials are not commenting on why he was found in that condition. But already, in comments to news stories posted on line, folks are declaring victory -- blood, they cry, and pain, too. Did the rule of law fail Steven Hayes?
Hayes is standing trial in a death-penalty case for his role in the kidnapping, rape and murder of a popular doctor's family in Cheshire. Jury selection has been underway for two weeks now. Trial was not expected to begin until September.
The Superior Court had imposed a gag order on Hayes' lawyer and the DOC is not saying what happened, but a medically induced coma suggests trauma to the brain. Was Hayes beaten by fellow inmates? Did the Department of Correction blink and permit a little vigilante justice to take place? Or was there an accident? An independent prosecutor should be appointed to find answers.
The department is not above this sort of misconduct. I recall one case in which a man was placed in a cell with a known predator, and then left alone. When he was beaten nearly to death, the prison acted surprised. A federaj judge denied summary judgment to the defendants in that case.
In another case, Kevin King, a man the state sought to kill, was beaten after he surrendered while trying to escape. He faced the death penalty for the rape and murder of his girlfriend. When he tried to escape, he abducted a guard, stabbing her with a home-made shank and tying her to his bed after putting on her uniform and trying to walk out the door. An outraged jury awarded Kevin King $2.1 million for the ordeal.
Oddly enough, King's unreasonable force case was tried in federal court before Judge Domenic Squatrito. And the jury was assembled using group voir dire. King's lawyer told the jurors everything about Mr. King and then let them debate whether he had the right to complain that justice had failed him. Hadn't he forfeited the rights of an ordinary citizen?
The jury said no. They agreed that no man is the sum of his worst moments, and they awarded $2 million in punitive damages against guards who behaved no better than the man they were guarding. It was a stunning verdict, and it gave me hope in the ordinary decency of jurors.
And, lest I forget to mention it, the case was mine. I took it at the request of the Connecticut Public Defenders office. Our goal was simple: To prove that the rule of law reaches even the darkest of places. As I write this piece on Hayes I cannot help but wonder whether justice failed again. Did we let the mob speak, thus neutering the rule of law for us all?
If Mr. Hayes was the victim of foul play, the currency of justice has been devalued.
UPDATE: The morning papers report that Hayes apparently stockpiled prescription medications, hording a lethal dose. According to these reports, he is not the victim of violence at the hands of another. At least that is the official gloss. If so, this is precisely the method Michael Ross tried to use in his efforts to be permitted to die. How odd the ways of justice: You can't kill yourself, we assert; no, the thrill of the kill belongs to we the people.