Saturday, April 7, 2012

An Interview With Don Pesci On Death Penalty Abolition

Q: The death penalty was abolished by the Senate on April 5. It’s a virtual certainty that the House also will approve the Democrat inspired bill. Do you feel safer?
A: Can’t say. Part of the abolition bluster was that the death penalty did not prevent murders, always a questionable assumption.

Q: “Bluster?” What ever can you mean?

A: It was never a serious proposition, just a useful piece of propaganda.

Q: But the polls!

A: Think of what is meant when it is said that a punishment deters crime. How do you collect reliable data showing that the death penalty – or, indeed, any punishment –deters an action? Reliable data retrieval showing that the death penalty has deterred Mr. Smith from murdering Mrs. Smith cannot be collected from Mr. Smith. Mr. Smith is invisible. And if he’s smart, he will choose to remain invisible. The pollster can’t find him. Mr. Smith is not likely to step out of the shadows and volunteer that he was contemplating the murder of his wife. The police still toss you into jail for attempted murder. Polls showing that murder is deterred OR NOT DETERRED by capital punishment are so highly attenuated as to border on surmise, mere guesswork. We assume that punishment deters because when we were little boys and girls punished by our parents for some innocent crime, we chose to refrain from recidivism. Dostoyevsky wrote a whole novel about crime and punishment, concluding at the end of it that a sense of honor, religious prescriptions and the tug of conscience very well might lead to confession and redemption. But crime prevention? In the absence of the virtues that may quicken the conscience and lead to genuine redemption, a policeman under every bed in the United States could not deter crime. Like the poor, crime will always be with us. The only question open for discussion is: What do you do with the criminal?

Q: You are not saying, are you, that punishment CANNOT deter crime?

A: That’s right. I am merely saying that deterrence cannot be accurately measured.

Q: The Democrats who approved abolition placed in their bill a provision that would retain Death Row for inmates who had been found guilty of heinous crimes; the death penalty was eliminated, but not Death Row. Why?

A: That is a good question. There are a number of possibilities. Politically, it was a shrewd thing to do. We do not know whether Mr. Williams’intention was punitive, but it seems so.In a post-repeal interview, Mr. Williams confessed that his ploy was primarily political. Following a visit to Death Row, Mr. Williams returned to meet with abolition legislators at the capitol. On April 9, a couple of days after the vote, CTMirror reporter Mark Pazniokas wrote“ Williams and Looney concluded that repeal was possible only if those sentenced to the new crime of murder with special circumstances faced conditions closer to death row than MacDougall.”
The Democrats could hardly argue that the new punishment tier they had established, “crime with special circumstances,” would deter murder, having argued that the death penalty itself was not a deterrent. Probably it was offered as political bait to draw in legislators fearful that a vote for abolition might be interpreted by voters in the upcoming election as indicating they were “soft on crime.” And, of course, the measure retains the union infused punishment apparatus. Democrats are big on unionization. One has the impression that any proposal made by any Democrat to save money through de-unionization might earn them a ticket to Death Row. Chris Powell, the managing Editor of the Journal Inquirer and its primary columnist, raised some questions about the new punishment tier, but he was the only one.    

Q: One of the other points raised against the death penalty by Senate President Don Williams prior to the vote to abolish was that it had been randomly applied: Not everyone who committed murder in Connecticut has been sentenced to death.

A: And a good thing too. In practice, Connecticut’s death penalty punishment was applied ONLY if certain circumstances had been met. Not every murderer qualified. You had to work really hard to merit the death penalty. It is no argument in favor of the abolition of a punishment – say, ticketing for speeding – to say that not everyone who commits the offense is punished. This is an infantile objection: “Mommy, he did it too. How come only I got sent to bed?” Should we abolish ticketing for excessive speed on the highways because – just to fetch for a figure – 98 percent of speeders are not ticketed and of those ticketed 99 percent are not brought to trial? Grow up!

Q: Personally, I would be in favor of abolishing the practice of ticketing for any reason, however specious.

A: Of course you would. I’ve driven with you.

Q: Another argument was that the penalty once applied was irreversible.

A: People who said that the death penalty could be applied in error had to travel outside the confines of Connecticut to find such instances. Or they presented their objection as a theoretical proposition. No one awaiting death on Connecticut’s death row has been mistakenly led there by judicial error.

Q: But the appeals!

A: A means of postponing punishment, a judicial means of jury nullification.

Q: And the money spent!

A: Legal assistance is expensive, most especially when it is supplied “for free” by the state. The economic argument for abolition is possibly the least convincing. If you want a Cadillac justice system, you have to pay Cadillac prices. Towards the end of the debate in the Senate, a provision was introduced in the bill designed expressly to turn some “moderate”legislators towards abolition. The state would create a special process for convicted murderers it no longer could execute. They would be treated in the same manner as death row inmates. The death penalty would be abolished, but death row – very expensive – would remain for murderers who, under the abolished law, were separated and treated differently than, say, prisoners who were jailed because they had too often been randomly arrested for speeding. Given an opportunity to abolish a dollar swallowing death row along with the death penalty, precisely those senators who had argued that the death penalty process was too expensive to maintain chose to retain death row. No one laughed. How expensive might it be to retain Joshua Komisarjevsky in prison for life in a death row like environment? He is a very young man and, of course, all the arguments utilized to abolish the death penalty minus one (irreversibility in case of error) may also be used to argue for the abolition of life in prison. No doubt, tax supported defense attorneys will be permitted to make just such very expensive arguments through the state’s sometimes redundant appeal system. The abolition bill does not and cannot prevent pointless appeals. These are measurable costs. Why have they not been measured? Why has no conscience stricken, economic minded opponent of the death penalty turned his rhetorical fire on a life in prison sentence that will be prohibitively expensive?

Q: Why?

A: Because dollars spent on the judicial system – the bulk of which find their way into the salaries of judges, lawyers, some of them legislators, and prison officials -- is a straw man issue, wholly irrelevant. If legislators were concerned about expense, they would have abolished death row.

Q: Well, you don’t have to get so huffy.


  1. C'mon, don't be so simplistic. You know better.

    The disproportionality is not in who received a sentence of death, but for whom the sentence of death was sought. You're more likely to have death pursued if you commit a crime in Waterbury. You're more likely to have death pursued if you kill a white person and even more likely if you're a minority doing it.

    That's the problem. The disparity is that there are people who committed crimes just as egregious as those who are on death row, but death wasn't pursued in their cases. That's what makes it arbitrary and capricious.

    But you knew that.

    It's also pretty disingenuous and dangerous to call appeals "pointless". They aren't and never will be. They are a safeguard, protecting you and me to ensure that the law of the law, the rights enumerated in the Constitution are always upheld, no matter the offense or the offender.

    They also aren't endless. They may take a lot of time, given the stakes, but they are limited in number: 1 direct appeal to the State Supreme Court, a petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus and one appeal from that and then a Federal Habeas petition and an appeal - if any - from that.

    They serve different purposes by law and are thus indispensable to ensuring that all our rights are protected.

    And finally, the argument that we haven't had an innocent man on death row in CT just yet is silly. You want to take the risk that one day we will? Because it's inevitable.

  2. The Death Penalty: Saving More Innocent Lives
    Dudley Sharp, contact and brief bio below

    A. Innocence

    Of all human endeavors that put innocents at risk, is there one with a better record of sparing innocent lives than the US death penalty? Unlikely.

    1) "The Death Penalty: More Protection for Innocents"

    2) Opponents in capital punishment have blood on their hands, Dennis Prager, 11/29/05,

    3) "A Death Penalty Red Herring: The Inanity and Hypocrisy of Perfection", Lester Jackson Ph.D.,

    4) Innocents More At Risk Without Death Penalty

  3. D. Of course the death penalty deters. A review of the debate
    Dudley Sharp

    Reason, common sense, history and the facts support that the death penalty deters and deters more than lesser sanctions.

    1) Anti death penalty folks say that the burden of proof is on those who say that the death penalty deters. Untrue. It is a rational truism that all potential negative outcomes deter some - there is no exception. It is the burden of death penalty opponents to prove that the death penalty, the most severe of criminal sanctions, is the only prospect of a negative outcome that deters none. They cannot. NO DETERRENCE STUDY FINDS THAT THE DEATH PENALTY DETERS NONE. THEY CANNOT.

    2) There have been 28 recent studies finding for death penalty deterrence. A few of those have been criticized. The criticism has, itself been rebutted and/or the criticism doesn't negate no. 1 or nos. 3-10.

    3) Anti death penalty columnists Eric Zorn of the Chicago Tribune states, "No one argues that the death penalty deters none." "Will someone bent on murder turn from the crime when he contemplates the fact that he may be executed for it? Obviously that will happen."(1). More precisely, it "does" happen and always has. Yes, some do argue, beyond reason, that the death penalty deters none. But Zorn is correct, the issue is not "Does the death penalty deter?". It does. The only issue is to what degree. Therefore, anti death penalty efforts must contend with the reality that sparing murderers does sacrifice more innocent lives , by reduced deterrence, lesser incapacitation and lesser due process, and executing murderers does save more innocent lives, by enhanced incapacitation, enhanced deterrence and enhanced due process.

    4) The evidence is expressly clear and overwhelming that death is feared more than life and life is preferred over death, not just for murderers facing death, but by a majority of all of us.

    When 99.8% of murderers, who are subject to the death penalty, tell us they fear death more than life (2) and when about 99.9% of the rest of us (excluding the terribly ill) tell us they prefer life over death, it is a certainty that potential murderers, overwhelmingly feel the same, and thus fear execution more than life.

    What we fear the most deters the most.

    Life is preferred over death. Death is feared more than life. No surprise. Would a more rational group, those who choose not to murder, also share in that overwhelming fear of death and be deterred by the prospects of execution? Of course - just as we all do.

    5) There are a number of known cases of individual deterrence, those potential murderers who have stated that they were prevented from committing murder because of their fear of the death penalty. Individual deterrence exists.

    6) General deterrence exists because individual deterrence cannot exist without it.


  4. contd

    7) Even the dean of anti death penalty academics, Hugo Adam Bedau, agrees that the death penalty deters .. . but he doesn't believe it deters more than a life sentence (3). Number 4, specifically, and Nos. 5, 6 and 10 provide anecdotal and rational evidence that the death penalty is a greater deterrent than a life sentence. Bedau has not and cannot rebut that. In addition, the 28 studies finding for deterrence, find that the death penalty is an enhanced deterrent over a life sentence.

    8) All criminal sanctions deter. If you doubt that, what do you think would happen if we ended all criminal sanctions? No rational person has any doubt. Some would have us, irrationally, believe that the most severe sanction, execution, is the only sanction which doesn't deter.

    9) If we execute and there is no deterrence, we have justly punished a murderer and have prevented that murderer from ever harming/murdering, again. If we execute and there is deterrence, we have those benefits, plus we have spared even more additional innocent lives via deterrence. If we don't execute and there is deterrence, we have spared murderers at the cost of more innocent deaths, via the loss of a greater deterrent, as well as by lesser incapacitation.

    10) Overwhelmingly, people prefer life over death and fear death more than life.

    "If we execute murderers and there is in fact no deterrent effect, we have killed a bunch of murderers. If we fail to execute murderers, and doing so would in fact have deterred other murders, we have allowed the killing of a bunch of innocent victims. I would much rather risk the former. This, to me, is not a tough call."

    John McAdams - Marquette University/Department of Political Science


    (1) "Death penalty and deterrence -- the argument from anecdote", Eric Zorn, Change of Subject page, Chicago Tribune, 4/23/2011,

    (2) About 99.8% of those murderers who are subject to the death penalty do everything they can to receive a lesser sentence, in pre trial, plea bargains, trial, in appeals and in clemency/commutation proceedings. Only about 1/3 of all murderers who have a death penalty trial receive that sanction, meaning 2/3 receive a sentence less than life, as they had hoped and even more murderers plea bargained to a sentence less than death, pre trial. Only 1.7% of those sentenced to death "volunteer" for executions by waiving appeals - 98.3% do not.

    (3) "An Abolitionist's Survey of the Death Penalty in America Today", Hugo Adam Bedau, Chapter 2, within Debating the death penalty: should America have capital punishment? : the experts on both sides make their case, editors Hugo Adam Bedau, Paul G. Cassell, Oxford University Press, 2004. SHARP REVIEW: AN EXCELLENT BOOK PRESENTING BOTH SIDES.

  5. C. Deterrence

    Of course the death penalty deters.

    All prospects of a negative outcome deter some. It is a truism. The death penalty, the most severe of criminal sanctions, is the least likely of all criminal sanctions to violate that truism.

    1) 28 recent studies finding for deterrence, Criminal Justice Legal Foundation

    2) "Deterrence & the Death Penalty: A Reply to Radelet and Lacock"

    3) "Death Penalty, Deterrence & Murder Rates: Let's be clear"

    4) This is out of date, but corrects a number of the misconceptions about deterrence.
    "Death Penalty and Deterrence"

    5) "The Death Penalty: More Protection for Innocents"

  6. It is a very odd – I won’t say simplistic – to be charged as being simplistic for insisting that the appropriateness of a penalty should be determined with reference to the facts of the case in question rather than the procrustean, all-purpose demands made by Gideon.
    Here is a lengthy discussion of the Michael Ross case: Mr. Ross was one of only two prisoners on Death Row actually executed by the state of Connecticut in the last half century.
    An appeal may be said to be pointless when it fails in a rather spectacular manner. I should like Gideon to review the part played by Judge Chatigny in the Ross case and the write back to this page and tell us whether he thinks judge Chatigny’s attempt to revive a nearly dead and pointless appeals process was itself pointless.
    Gideon will remember that Judge Chatigny’s nomination to an appellate court was rejected largely because of the roll he played in the Ross case.

  7. Moral Foundations: Death Penalty Pt. 1
    presented by Dudley Sharp

    John Murray

    "Nothing shows the moral bankruptcy of a people or of a generation more than disregard for the sanctity of human life."

    "... it is this same atrophy of moral fiber that appears in the plea for the abolition of the death penalty."

    "It is the sanctity of life that validates the death penalty for the crime of murder. It is the sense of this sanctity that constrains the demand for the infliction of this penalty. The deeper our regard for life the firmer will be our hold upon the penal sanction which the violation of that sanctity merit." (Page 122 of Principles of Conduct).

    Immanuel Kant

    "If an offender has committed murder, he must die. In this case, no possible substitute can satisfy justice. For there is no parallel between death and even the most miserable life, so that there is no equality of crime and retribution unless the perpetrator is judicially put to death.".

    "A society that is not willing to demand a life of somebody who has taken somebody else's life is simply immoral."

    Pope Pius XII

    "When it is a question of the execution of a man condemned to death it is then reserved to the public power to deprive the condemned of the benefit of life, in expiation of his fault, when already, by his fault, he has dispossessed himself of the right to live." 9/14/52.

    Billy Graham

    "God will not tolerate sin. He condemns it and demands payment for it. God could not remain a righteous God and compromise with sin. His holiness and His justice demand the death penalty." ( "The Power of the Cross," published in the Apr. 2007 issue of Decision magazine ).

    Jean-Jacques Rousseau

    "Again, every rogue who criminously attacks social rights becomes, by his wrong, a rebel and a traitor to his fatherland. By contravening its laws, he ceases to be one of its citizens: he even wages war against it. In such circumstances, the State and he cannot both be saved: one or the other must perish. In killing the criminal, we destroy not so much a citizen as an enemy. The trial and judgements are proofs that he has broken the Social Contract, and so is no longer a member of the State." (The Social Contract).

    John Locke

    "A criminal who, having renounced reason... hath, by the unjust violence and slaughter he hath committed upon one, declared war against all mankind, and therefore may be destroyed as a lion or tyger, one of those wild savage beasts with whom men can have no society nor security." And upon this is grounded the great law of Nature, "Whoso sheddeth man's blood, by man shall his blood be shed." Second Treatise of Civil Government.

    Saint (& Pope) Pius V

    "The just use of (executions), far from involving the crime of murder, is an act of paramount obedience to this (Fifth) Commandment which prohibits murder." "The Roman Catechism of the Council of Trent" (1566).

    Theodore Roosevelt

    "It was really heartrending to have to see the kinfolk and friends of murderers who were condemned to death, and among the very rare occasions when anything governmental or official caused me to lose sleep were times when I had to listen to some poor mother making a plea for a criminal so wicked, so utterly brutal and depraved, that it would have been a crime on my part to remit his punishment.".

    Many, many more.

    From Dudley Sharp

  8. Gideon:

    Please review:

    "Death Penalty Sentencing: No Systemic Bias"