Capital punishment in Connecticut

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Capital punishment in Connecticut formerly existed as an available sanction for a criminal defendant upon conviction for the commission of a capital offense. Since the 1976 United States Supreme Court decision in Gregg v. Georgia until Connecticut repealed capital punishment in 2012, Connecticut executed one individual, although the law allowed executions to proceed for those still on death row and convicted under the previous law, but on August 13, 2015, the Connecticut Supreme Court found the death penalty unconstitutional especially holding death row inmates after capital punishment was banned in 2012.


Between 1639 and 2005, Connecticut performed 126 executions. Twenty-four executions occurred in Connecticut Colony, prior to its statehood. The remaining 102 executions occurred after Connecticut's 1788 admission to the Union as the fifth state.[1] Contrary to popular belief, Adonijah Bailey was not the oldest person executed at age 79 in 1824; instead, he was tried and sentenced to death at age 80 in January 1825 for the murder of Jeremiah W. Pollock, and hanged himself on May 24, over two weeks before he was to be executed.[2][3] The oldest person executed is Gershon Marx, hanged on May 18, 1905, for murder at age 73.[4] The following are some historical milestones of capital punishment in Connecticut:

Year Date Milestone Name Race Sex Age Method Offense
1639 January 30 first person to be executed Nepauduck Native American Male n/a Hanging Murder
1647 May 26 first female to be executed Young, Alse White Female n/a Hanging Witchcraft
1753 November 21 last adult female to be executed by hanging Bramble, Sarah White Female n/a Hanging Murder
1786 December 20 youngest person to be executed Ocuish, Hannah Native American Female 12 Hanging Murder
1817 November 30 last person to be executed for a crime other than murder Adams, Amos Black Male 28 Hanging Rape
1905 May 18 oldest person to be executed Marx, Gershon White Male 73 Hanging Murder
1936 April 7 last person to be executed by hanging Simborski, John White Male 30 Hanging Murder
1937 February 10 first person to be executed by electric chair McElroy, Joseph J. White Male 45 Electric chair Murder
1960 May 17 last person to be executed by electric chair (as well as the last pre-Furman execution in Connecticut) Taborsky, Joseph White Male 36 Electric chair Murder
2005 May 13 first and only person to be executed by lethal injection Ross, Michael White Male 45 Lethal Injection Murder

Modern era

After Furman v. Georgia, Connecticut reinstated the death penalty on January 10, 1973.[5] Lethal injection became the method mandated to execute condemned prisoners, replacing the electric chair, which had not been used since Taborsky's execution in 1960.[citation needed]

Unlike most of the other states, the Governor of Connecticut cannot commute the death sentence imposed under State law or pardon a death row inmate. This is determined by the Board of Clemency, on which the Governor does not sit. The other states where the Board has sole authority are Georgia and Idaho.[6]


On May 22, 2009, the Connecticut General Assembly passed a bill that would abolish the death penalty, although it would not retroactively apply to the eleven current Connecticut death row inmates or those convicted of capital crimes committed before the repeal went into effect. The bill was vetoed by Governor Jodi Rell.[7]

On April 11, 2012, the Connecticut House of Representatives voted to repeal capital punishment for future cases (leaving past death sentences in place). The Connecticut Senate had already voted for the bill, and on April 25 Governor Dannel Malloy signed the bill into law[8] That made Connecticut the 17th state in the US without a death penalty, and the fifth state to abolish capital punishment in five years.[9] In 2015 the state Supreme Court ruled the death penalty unconstitutional; the state has replaced the sentences with life without parole.[10][11]

Capital crimes

Murder with special circumstances, also called capital felony, was the only capital crime in Connecticut.[12] These include any of the following:

  • murder while the victim was acting within the scope of his duties, a police officer, Division of Criminal Justice inspector, state marshal exercising his statutory authority, judicial marshal performing his duties, constable performing law enforcement duties, special policeman, conservation or special conservation officer appointed by the environmental protection commissioner, Department of Correction (DOC) employee or service provider acting within the scope of his employment in a correctional facility and the perpetrator is an inmate, or firefighter
  • murder committed by a defendant who is hired to commit the same for pecuniary gain or murder committed by one who is hired by the defendant to commit the same for pecuniary gain
  • murder committed by one who has previously been convicted of intentional murder or of murder committed in the course of commission of a felony
  • murder committed by one who was, at the time of commission of the murder, under sentence of life imprisonment
  • murder by a kidnapper of a kidnapped person during the course of the kidnapping or before such person is able to return or be returned to safety
  • murder committed in the course of the commission of sexual assault in the first degree
  • murder of two or more persons at the same time or in the course of a single transaction
  • murder of a person under sixteen years of age.[13]

As in any other state, people who are under 18 at the time of commission of the capital crime[14] or mentally retarded[15] are constitutionally precluded from being executed.


During the 366 years between 1639 and 2005, Connecticut has performed a total of 126 executions. This averages to be approximately one execution every three years. The only person to be executed since 1960 has been the serial killer and rapist Michael Bruce Ross on May 13, 2005, for the kidnapping, rapes and murders of Robin Stavinsky, April Brunais, Wendy Baribeault, and Leslie Shelley.[16] Until the 2005 Roper v. Simmons decision, juveniles over the age of 16 could be sentenced to death because state law only required that the offender be tried in adult court to face the death penalty.

Method of Execution Years Employed Number of Executions
Hanging 1639—1936 107
Electric chair 1937—1960 18
Lethal injection 2005 1
Total: 366 Years 126 Executions

Notable executions

Several notable executions have occurred in both Connecticut Colony and in the state of Connecticut, as indicated below.

  • Alse Young — Young, of Windsor, is the first person on record to be executed for witchcraft in the thirteen American colonies. On May 26, 1647, Young was hanged at the Meeting House Square in Hartford, Connecticut, on what is now the site of the Old State House.
  • Hannah Ocuish — Ocuish (born 1774) was a mentally retarded Pequot Indian girl who was hanged on December 20, 1786 in New London County, Connecticut. She was accused of killing the young daughter of a prominent white family after quarreling with her over some strawberries. At the time of her execution, Ocuish was 12 years and 9 months old. She is believed to be the youngest person legally executed in America.
  • Gerald Chapman – Chapman, a Prohibition-era gangster known as "The Count of Gramercy Park", was the first criminal to be dubbed "Public Enemy Number One" by the press.[17] Convicted of the October 12, 1924 murder of police officer James Skelly in New Britain, Chapman was hanged by upright jerker on April 6, 1926 at the state prison in Wethersfield.
  • Michael Bruce Ross — The execution of Ross was the first in Connecticut (and in all of New England) since 1960. It was also the first and only execution in Connecticut administered by lethal injection. Ross was the last inmate to be executed in Connecticut.

Death row

The male death row was located at the Northern Correctional Institution. In 1995 the male death row moved from Osborn Correctional Institution to Northern.[18] The execution chamber was located at Osborn.[19] The York Correctional Institution houses all female prisoners in the state, but no women were on death row.[20]

See also


  1. Regional Studies Northeast
  2. RootsWeb: RIGENWEB-L Re: [RIGENWEB] Pollock Murder – The Scoop
  3. The Telescope, June 4, 1825. The Telescope. June 4, 1825. 
  4. [Deathpenalty]death penalty news-CONN., ALA., MISS., KY., USA
  5. Death Penalty Information Center
  6. Clemency
  7. Rell Vows to Veto Ban on Death Penalty in Connecticut
  8. "Connecticut governor signs bill to repeal death penalty". FOX News Network, LLC. April 25, 2012. Retrieved April 25, 2012. 
  9. Death Penalty Repeal Goes to Connecticut Governor Retrieved April 24, 2012.
  10. Pete Williams. "Connecticut Supreme Court Overturns Death Penalty in State". NBC News. Retrieved August 13, 2015. 
  11. Mark Berman (August 13, 2015). "Connecticut Supreme Court says the death penalty is unconstitutional and bans executions for inmates on death row". Washington Post. Retrieved August 16, 2015. 
  12. Crimes Punishable by the Death Penalty
  14. Roper v. Simmons, 543 U.S. 551 (2005)
  15. Atkins v. Virginia, 536 U.S. 304 (2002)
  16. Michael Ross – Selected Chronology, CT State Library
  17. "The First "Public Enemy Number One"". Smithsonian National Postal Museum. Retrieved January 19, 2010. 
  18. "Northern Correctional Institution." Connecticut Department of Correction. Retrieved on August 16, 2010.
  19. "Administration of Capital Punishment Directive Number 6.15." Connecticut Department of Correction. October 19, 2004. 1/9. Retrieved on August 16, 2010. "Execution Area. A series of four (4) contiguous rooms in the Osborn Correctional Institution comprised of the..."
  20. "York Correctional Institution." Connecticut Department of Correction. Retrieved on November 9, 2010

External links