Frank Harris III
November 11, 2010
The killer shall be killed — so said the jury in the Cheshire home invasion murder case.
Steven Hayes, one of the two men accused of entering the home of the William Petit Jr. family on that July night in 2007, will join 10 other men on Connecticut's death row.
Hayes has earned the needle.
He should die, even though his death will not bring back Petit's wife, Jennifer, and daughters, Hayley, 17, and Michaela,11.
He should die, even though his death will not make us safer.
He should die, though his death will take forever and a day to occur.
He should die, though the logic and reason for the death penalty offer little to support its continuation.
According to the Death Penalty Information Center, a nonprofit organization that studies capital punishment, murder rates are higher in the states that have death penalties than in those that don't. For 2009, the murder rate was 4.9 per 100,000 people in states that had capital punishment vs. 2.8 per 100,000 for states that don't. Connecticut's murder rate was 3.0 per 100,000, which ranks the state 32nd nationally.
But whether the death penalty correlation with murder rates truly applies in Connecticut, where the death penalty was reinstituted in 1973 with just one execution since then, remains to be seen.
Still, if the issue is whether the death penalty makes everyone safer, it clearly does not.
The information center polled police chiefs one year ago and found they ranked the death penalty last among ways to reduce violent crimes.
Few criminology experts would say the death penalty is a deterrent.
But that is beside the point.
As one acquaintance who had been against the death penalty said: "You think about if this were your wife and kids."
He said he would have no trouble ending Hayes' life. Everyone wants justice for a wrong.
After the sentencing, Petit said justice was served and that whatever Hayes suffers from the application of the death penalty, he will face a harsher reckoning when he faces God.
But few have the patience for God.
Hayes is judged and sentenced on Earth and the hereafter will take care of itself — which is to say he'll be in God's hands later, but he's in the state's hands now.
So Hayes will die by the state, though his death will be a long time coming.
According to Bureau of Justice statistics, the average inmate on death row spends at least a decade awaiting execution. Michael Ross, the last person to be executed in Connecticut, sat on death row for 17 years before his execution. Many of those seeking justice for the victims may well die before Hayes.
It would seem that the execution of the execution should be swifter. But perhaps that would diminish the punitive aspect of the death penalty: the waiting. Hayes will spend much of that time away from the rest of the prison population, never knowing when his time to die will come.
And when he is finally put to death, it will be a sedate and peaceful death compared to the horrendous and terrifying death suffered by his victims.
There is little logic and reason for the death penalty, though 35 of the 50 states have it and though 3,261 inmates were on death row as of Jan. 1, according to the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. Considering how long it takes to carry out the death sentence, it may as well be a life sentence. But logic and reason have little to do with wanting someone like Hayes to die, any more than logic played a role in what he did in the Petit home.
Those who cold-bloodedly do wrong in taking a life should have their lives taken. Agreed, there are flaws. There is injustice in how the death penalty is applied in America. But in this case, Hayes has earned the needle he will get.
The final crime is that it will take so damn long.
Frank Harris III is chairman of the journalism department at Southern Connecticut State University in New Haven. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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