Killings Put Death Penalty at Center of Connecticut Races

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In 2007, a home invasion in Cheshire, Connecticut ended with the murder of a woman and her two daughters. This Tuesday, Steven Hayes was convicted of the murder, and next week a jury will decide whether he should be executed or imprisoned for life. The emotionally charged case has made the death penalty into a prominent issue in the gubernatorial campaign and in the race for Chris Dodd's Senate seat.

  • For Governor: Foley vs. Malloy  The Democratic nominee for governor, Stamford mayor Dan Malloy, has said that he'd abolish the death penalty in all future cases but allow pending executions to be carried out. Malloy's opponent, the former ambassador Tom Foley, favors keeping the death penalty on the books--as, he says, do a mjaority of Connecticut voters. "Why would you abolish the death penalty when a majority of the voters support it?" Foley asked Malloy in a recent debate. "Why would you do that? It's arrogant."

  • For Senate: McMahon vs. Blumenthal  GOP candidate Linda McMahon has taken pains to style her opponent, Rich Blumenthal, as inconsistent on capital punishment. (Last week, McMahon's campaign Web site reprinted a National Review piece called 'Blumenthal Waffled on Death Penalty.') Blumenthal has voted on both sides of the issue in the past 30 years; his campaign says that as an attorney, Blumenthal helped get an innocent man off death row, an experience that gave him a more nuanced perspective on capital punishment.

  • This Issue Could Prove Decisive  The Cheshire home invasion was widely publicized, and Gary Rose, a professor of politics at Sacred Heart University, told The Wall Street Journal that "there are a set of swing voters who will base their vote not on the recession, but on this emotional issue because of that case." Meanwhile, the Hartford Hospital psychologist Laura Saunders told The Hartford Courant: "The fact that it's a crime against women, I think that makes it particularly gruesome for many people ... The issues that make people more squeamish about the death penalty don't pertain to this."

  • But Should It?  At Newsweek, Jonathan Alter uses the Hayes trial as a springboard to question "the hypocritical conservative attitude toward the life-and-death power of the state." Given the imperfections of our justice system, says Alter, "even those who insist on supporting capital punishment can at least admit that an irreversible sentence should be rare and applied only when there's no sliver of doubt."

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