Connecticut high court to hear death penalty case

Gavel

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — The state Supreme Court has scheduled a rare summer special session to hear the death penalty appeal of Russell Peeler Jr., who ordered the 1999 killings of a woman and her 8-year-old son in Bridgeport.

The court was expected to hear Peeler’s case last month, but it wasn’t ready and had to be delayed, lawyers said. Justices occasionally hold special sessions when urgent issues arise and will hear Peeler’s case on June 30.

The fates of Peeler and the other 10 men on Connecticut’s death row hinge on a Supreme Court decision expected to be released soon in another case. The court is weighing whether the state’s 2012 repeal of the death penalty for future murders violates the constitutional rights of those still condemned to die and whether it should apply to them as well.

Peeler was sentenced to death in 2007 for ordering his brother to kill Karen Clarke and her son, Leroy “B.J.” Brown, who were shot to death in their home. The boy was expected to testify against Peeler in another murder case — the 1998 killing of Clarke’s boyfriend and Peeler’s drug-selling rival Rudolph Sneed Jr. In January, Peeler was sentenced to 105 years in prison for Sneed’s murder.

In a verdict that shocked prosecutors and the victims’ family, Peeler’s brother was acquitted of murder charges but convicted of conspiring to kill Clarke and her son. Adrian Peeler was sentenced to 20 years in prison.

Russell Peeler’s public defender, Mark Rademacher, has raised 33 issues in Peeler’s appeal to the state Supreme Court, including the 2012 death penalty repeal, the state’s rejection of three black people for the jury and alleged prosecutorial misconduct during closing arguments. Peeler is black.

Prosecutor Jonathan Benedict, now retired, told the jury that since Peeler had already been sentenced to life in prison in a federal drug case, giving him a life sentence in the killings of Clark and her son would “allow him two free murders with no punishment whatsoever.”

“There’s nothing worse that anyone could say during a penalty hearing that a life sentence insults the victims and the death penalty is the only meaningful sentence,” Rademacher said Thursday.

Prosecutor Marjorie Dauster declined to comment on the specifics of the appeal. But she wrote in court documents that all the defense arguments have no merit.

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