The Solemn Sentence of Death
Capital Punishment in Connecticut
Publication Year: 2011
Published by: University of Massachusetts Press
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Table of Contents
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This detailed study of capital punishment since colonial times in one jurisdiction was feasible only because of extensive archival holdings and other primary sources at the Connecticut State Library in Hartford. Without such repositories and their capable staff s, projects like this one would not be possible. It is essential to the vitality of democracy that such institutions be supported by generous public funding and free access...
Introduction: The Paradox of Capital Punishment
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On November 13, 1817, more than 15,000 people— men, women, and children— converged on Danbury, Connecticut. It was an unusually large gathering for the time. Some had traveled from as far away as twenty- five miles and arrived the previous night. They came to see the public execution that day of Amos Adams, a twenty- eight- year- old African American who had been convicted of raping Lelea Thorp, a married white woman...
Chapter 1: Biblical Retribution, 1636–1699
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Capital punishment was not a casual or arbitrary matter for the Puritans of New England. Scrupulous attention was paid to law and procedure, which were influenced by English tradition and scriptural interpretation. The saints, God’s elect, held the individual responsible for his or her actions, which were measured against the law, and the law’s ultimate basis was believed to be sacred.1 In the Connecticut and New Haven Colonies (two separate plantations...
Chapter 2: The Emergence of Yankee Justice, 1700–1772
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The discord that had bedeviled the Puritan errand into the wilderness after the mid- seventeenth century became manifest during the eighteenth, well before the onset of the American Revolution.1 Demographic growth and economic development played a dynamic role in reshaping institutions and expectations, to which the shattering religious...
Chapter 3: The Era of Newgate Prison, 1773–1827
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Throughout the Western world during the late eighteenth century, Enlightenment intellectuals challenged the death penalty. This pivotal period, which culminated in the American, French, and Haitian revolutions, was characterized by what one scholar has called the “inventing of human rights.”1 Connecticut too was part of the international...
Chapter 4: The Debate Over Capital Punishment, 1828–1879
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During the antebellum period, the first systematic debate over capital punishment occurred in the northern and midwestern states. In the Old South, where draconian measures were essential to maintain racial subjugation, little discussion ensued. Connecticut was no exception to the general rule. The divide between opponents was passionate and...
Chapter 5: The Menace of the Criminal Class, 1880–1929
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By 1900, a dynamic corporate capitalism profoundly dominated the United States. Connecticut was at the heart of the urban and industrial transformation that Civil War spending in the “munitions state” had brought to fruition. Huge factories employed a vast number of workers. Textiles— cotton, wool, silk, and thread— were concentrated in the eastern part of the state and were the largest industry in Connecticut. Hartford, made...
Chapter 6: The Waning of Executions, 1930–1960
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From the Great Depression through the immediate post– World War II era, several crucial turning points occurred in Connecticut’s policies affecting capital punishment. After almost a half century of hanging the condemned at the penitentiary, the state adopted electrocution in 1937, well after its implementation elsewhere. Officials saw electrocution as efficient...
Chapter 7: An Unofficial Moratorium, 1961–2004
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Expansion of defendants’ rights and restrictions on capital punishment came as a result of rulings by the federal courts.1 The culmination occurred in the 1972 decision in Furman v. Georgia. The United States Supreme Court in a controversial five-to-four opinion found that the arbitrary and inconsistent imposition of the death penalty violated the Eighth and Fourteenth amendments concerning cruel and unusual...
Chapter 8: The Execution of Michael Ross, 2005
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Michael Ross, the inmate longest on Connecticut’s death row, did not join the 2005 suit to review racial bias and other disparities in the administration of capital punishment in the state. Like Joseph Taborsky, he was a prime candidate for capital punishment. Both were white men, serial killers of mostly whites. No racial element, capriciousness, or prosecutorial disparity was apparent in the convictions for their heinous...
Epilogue: An Unworkable Death Penalty
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The arrest, adjudication, and execution of Michael Ross took place over two decades. The duration far surpassed that of the 157 other people put to death in Connecticut in civilian courts over nearly four centuries. Rather than a vindication of the criminal justice system, the interminable process points to contradictions and complexities in Connecticut’s...
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Page Count: 328
Publication Year: 2011