Banning The Death Penalty Doesn't Ban Death Row

by April Siese

Three years after legislators abolished the death penalty in Connecticut, the state's supreme court has ruled that the 11 inmates currently still on death row will not be executed. Capital punishment was first struck down in Connecticut by the state's legislature in 2012. Though the decision effectively eliminated executions for all future crimes, it did not extend to inmates already serving on death row. Thursday's 4-3 decision changed that, allowing for all 11 death row prisoners to serve life sentences rather than face execution. Connecticut is just one of 19 states without a death penalty. Still, there is one more state that's banned capital punishment but still has a death row.New Mexico abolished the death penalty in 2009, and, like in Connecticut, the bill signed into law did not affect those already facing execution. Thus, two inmates — Timothy Allen and Robert Fry — are both facing execution despite the ban of capital punishment. Allen was convicted two decades ago for the 1994 kidnapping, rape, and strangling of a 17-year-old. Fry was convicted in 2000 for four murders, three of his convictions carrying life sentences and one carrying with it the death penalty. Both death row inmates' lawyers have argued that by executing Fry and Allen, the state would be engaging in cruel and unusual punishment in the face of their capital punishment ban.

Spencer Platt/Getty Images News/Getty Images

Other states have faced similar decisions to Connecticut and New Mexico's. The most recent state to abolish the death penalty was Nebraska earlier this year. The state's legislation explicitly stated that death row inmates have their sentences changed to life in prison, effectively eliminating the same dilemmas faced by Connecticut and New Mexico. Before that, Maryland was the last state to eliminate capital punishment, doing so in 2013. Though the change did not immediately affect death row inmates, Gov. Martin O’Malley commuted the sentences of all four prisoners facing execution on his last day in office, changing their sentences to life without parole.Likewise, Connecticut Gov. Daniel P. Malloy has been consistently against the death penalty. Though Thursday's decision was indeed momentous, Malloy said in a statement that the event was still a sober reminder of the crimes all 11 inmates committed that led them to death row. Malloy said:

Today is a somber day where our focus should not be on the 11 men sitting on death row, but with their victims and those surviving families members. My thoughts and prayers are with them during what must be a difficult day.

It's highly unlikely that New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez will follow O'Malley's lead or be supportive of a state supreme court decision eliminating death row altogether. Martinez has been vocally in favor of capital punishment for years, most recently in July when she and other New Mexico officials met to discuss flaws in the state's criminal justice system.