September 14, 2012 http://www.sfgate.com
HARTFORD, The state Supreme Court has agreed to consider whether the recent repeal of Connecticut’s death penalty applies only to future defendants.
The state’s highest court granted a request on Thursday by Eduardo Santiago to challenge the repeal’s impact on those who committed capital crimes before the law was passed. He was convicted in a murder-for-hire plot that promised him a broken snowmobile.
The death penalty was repealed in April, but it was preserved for 11 inmates on death row and for pending cases.
The Supreme Court overturned Santiago’s death sentence in June, saying the trial judge wrongly withheld key evidence from the jury.
Santiago’s lawyers have until Nov. 13 to file legal papers. The state will have 60 days to respond and a hearing could be scheduled early next year.
Five of the 11 inmates on Connecticut’s death are fighting their death sentences in a trial at Northern Correctional Institution in Somers, the site of death row. The inmates say prosecutors’ decision-making process in death penalty cases has been arbitrary and were biased on the basis of race and geography.
Of the 11 men on death row, six are black, four are white and one is Hispanic. Of their 15 victims, 10 were white, four were black and one was Hispanic.
Santiago and two other men were convicted in the fatal shooting of Joseph Niwinski, 45, in West Hartford in 2000. Police said Santiago was promised a pink-striped snowmobile with a broken clutch in exchange for the killing.
Santiago, 32, has denied allegations that he agreed to kill Niwinski in exchange for the broken snowmobile. He was sentenced to lethal injection in 2005 after a jury convicted him, despite no clear evidence that he was the one who pulled the rifle trigger.
Connecticut was the 17th state to repeal capital punishment and the fifth in five years. In the past five decades, the state has executed only one person, serial killer Michael Ross in 2005, who pushed for his death sentence to be carried out.