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Legal Challenges Expected To Death Penalty Repeal


The lawyer who represented one of the men convicted in the Cheshire murder trials says he expects there will be legal challenges to Connecticut’s death penalty repeal. 

Lawyer Thomas Ullmann represented Steven Hayes, who was convicted and sentenced to death for his role in the murders of Jennifer-Hawke Petit and her two daughters.

Ullmann calls the end of Connecticut’s death penalty a “momentous occasion.”  

"And I think it was an even greater step forward given the fact that the Cheshire incident happened in 2007. It's almost mind-boggling to me that we’ve taken this step."

Connecticut’s law is “prospective”, not retroactive, so it doesn’t affect the eleven inmates currently on death row.  

Ullmann is not handling Hayes’ appeal, but says those involved will challenge whether the death sentence can stand, now that Connecticut has ended capital punishment.

"There are issues of fundamental fairness. Are we looking at a changed community standard, in terms of this penalty?"

New Mexico ended its death penalty in 2009, but prosecutors there continued to seek the death penalty in a trial that took place this month - because the crime was committed before the state’s repeal. Last week the defendant in that case was sentenced to life in prison.  

Ullmann says its unclear whether states can execute inmates after abolishing the death penalty.

"I would think that this may be new grounds in the appellate field."

Related questions may arise in a habeas corpus trial expected to take place in the coming weeks. Defense attorneys for death row inmates will argue that there are racial, ethnic and geographic disparities in the way the death penalty is administered in Connecticut.  

Diane Orson is a special correspondent with Connecticut Public. She is a longtime reporter and contributor to National Public Radio. Her stories have been heard on Morning Edition, All Things Considered, Weekend Edition and Here And Now. Diane spent seven years as CT Public Radio's local host for Morning Edition.

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