Ending a death penalty the state is reluctant to use
As Connecticut's non-fatal death penalty works its way toward possible abolition by the General Assembly, it is often noted that the state has executed only two men since 1960 and the last one, Michael Ross, volunteered. But the other one, Joseph Taborsky, volunteered too.
Ross refused to seek additional appeals in 2005 after 18 years on death row, saying he didn't want to inflict any more anguish on the survivors of his eight victims. Taborsky, the so-called "mad dog killer," waived his right to appeal right after his sentencing in 1957 for six armed robbery killings and was executed three years later.
This means the last person put to death in Connecticut after exhausting his appeals was a killer named Frank Wojulewicz, who died in the electric chair in 1959 after eight years of trying to overturn his sentence.
Wojculewicz was convicted of murdering a New Britain police officer and a bystander during a 1951 robbery in which he was shot and paralyzed from the waist down by the officer he had killed. Eight years later, Wojulewicz had to be wheeled into the death chamber of the Wethersfield Prison.
"Because of his physical condition, an extension was added to the front of the (electric) chair, making it look like a beach recliner," The Hartford Courant reported.
Eighteen men died in that electric chair from the time the state stopped hanging people by the neck until dead in 1936 to Taborsky's electrocution in 1960. Ross was the first and to date, the only person to be killed by lethal injection at the Northern Correctional Center in Somers. That adds up to 19 men and no women put to death in Connecticut in the past 76 years.
From the time the Connecticut colony began hanging witches in 1639, there have been 126 executions in 373 years. But Connecticut hasn't engaged in much official killing when compared with other states. George W. Bush outdistanced Connecticut's four century total when Texas executed 131 people during the five years he was governor.
And speaking of Texas, the Journal Inquirer discovered that Connecticut's Correction Department has sent at least one death row guard to Texas to check out new developments in the art of lethal injections. Texas, with its record breaking execution rate, is the home office of state sponsored killing.
The trip to Texas was ordered because only two of the all-volunteer force that injected Ross are still working for the Correction Department.
The death penalty faces only partial abolition this year because the bill under consideration does not include the 11 men currently on death row. This would allow legislators to avoid criticism for sparing, in theory, the killers of the family of Dr. William Petit. Some of the others have been awaiting execution for a decade or two and the likelihood of any of the 11 being lethally injected at any time is slight
Repeal easily passed in the Judiciary Committee last month and awaits a Senate vote, where the result depends on three undecided Democrats. The House strongly favors abolition.
If two of the three senators vote for repeal or if the vote is tied and Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman breaks it in favor of repeal, the bill will be signed by the governor and only the 11 grandfathered residents of death row will face the unlikely prospect of death by lethal injection.
And if any of the 11 should exhaust all appeals in 25 or 30 or 40 years, a defense attorney can be expected to try what is known as the death row syndrome appeal, which makes the not unreasonable argument that so many decades on death row can make an inmate insane.
Dick Ahles is a retired journalist from Simsbury.
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