The Corner

Blumenthal Waffled on Death Penalty

At the senatorial debate on Monday, Connecticut attorney general Dick Blumenthal said he supported the death penalty, particularly in the case of Steven Hayes, who murdered a woman and her two daughters in Cheshire, Conn., in 2007:

There are crimes that are so horrible and heinous that they merit it. And in my view, not speaking as a juror or a prosecutor, I believe that Mr. Hayes deserves the death penalty. And certainly, if any case cried out for it, this one is it. I support it because it is a deterrent to certain kinds of crimes, for example crimes against law enforcement officers, police, or firefighters, or others who risk their lives on our behalf, correction officers.

But National Review Online has obtained research from an aide to Blumenthal’s opponent, Linda McMahon, that suggests Blumenthal has changed his mind on this issue throughout his career.

In 1981, Blumenthal — then a private attorney — agreed to represent Joseph Green Brown, who had been wrongly convicted of murder, in an appeal. When the court discovered that the prosecution had used false testimony to secure the conviction, it released Brown in 1987. On March 14 of that year, the St. Petersburg Times reported:

As U.S. attorney, Blumenthal was never confronted with a death-penalty case. “To the extent I had an opinion on it, I probably would have been in favor of it,” he said Friday in Jacksonville. “This case has made me opposed to it.”

In 1987, the New London Day identified Blumenthal as a “death penalty opponent” in a story about Michael Ross, who killed four women in Connecticut:

“I think if ever there was a case that I would be tempted to say the death penalty finding would be justice, this is it,” said Blumenthal, who spoke in favor of abolition of the death penalty before the Legislature’s Judiciary Committee in April. “At the same time, I maintain my position that the risk of convicting an innocent man or woman is too great and, for that reason, we ought not have the (death penalty).”

In 1997, Joseph Brown said that “at the time he accepted my case on a pro bono basis, he believed in capital punishment; and he still does in some circumstances. But he was appalled at the injustices he saw in the way my case had been handled, so he agreed to take it.”

Yet Blumenthal voted against a measure to toughen Connecticut’s capital-punishment policy when he served in the state senate. At the time, a judge or jury could not impose the death penalty if it found one “mitigating factor” — mental impairment, for instance. Former state senator Tom Scott, a Republican, tells NRO that the statute “was written to create the appearance that we had a capital-punishment statute with the understanding that it would never be used.”

On May 2, 1990, the senate took up H.B. 5542, which would have required a court to issue the death penalty if the aggravating factors outweighed the mitigating factors. Blumenthal spoke against the bill:

 The death penalty not only lacks any deterrent affect. It is also been proven to be more expensive to impose than any kind of prison term. It is more expensive to house an continue the convictions, maintain the convictions of those who have been convicted and sentenced to death. That is a fact that has been proven again, and again, throughout the country. And it is the reason along with all the others, that most countries in western Europe do not have the death penalty. Most New England States do not have it. We are one of the few in the region that does.

So I urge my fellow  members in this Circle, for all those reasons, to reject this amendment. Once again, we have a measure, a proposed statute with surface appeal, seductive on its face. But in reality it will not accomplish the purposes that its proponents say it will.

Blumenthal voted with the Democratic majority to refer the bill to the judiciary committee, effectively killing it, says Scott. “He voted against a bill that would have made it possible to give Steven Hayes the death penalty. Without that change, Hayes would have had life in prison,” Scott concludes. The state legislature subsequently adjusted the law after Blumenthal became attorney general.

On the other hand, the Associated Press reported on Jan. 24, 2005, that Blumenthal supported the death penalty for Ross.

Blumenthal said since becoming attorney general, he has come to believe that capital punishment serves as ‘a very appropriate and necessary law enforcement purpose in deterring and punishing for the most serious and heinous crimes.’ The Ross matter, he said, fits that bill.

A request for comment from Blumenthal’s campaign was not returned.

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