In a ground-floor courtroom in Rockville, Ct., yesterday, a plasma television offered a pixilated glimpse of what appeared to be a school gymnasium set up for a debate team tournament, the New York Times reports. The image of the gym was from the Northern Correctional Institution, a maximum security prison 13 miles away. With seven of the nine residents of Connecticut's death row expected to appear defending their claims that Connecticut's death penalty discriminates against minorities – state officials had deemed no courthouse secure enough.
Judge Stanley Fuger turned the prison's basketball court into a real court. Opposite the judge were the five inmates who had chosen to attend the hearing, each shackled at the hands and feet and each in a makeshift cubicle meant to separate them. John Massameno, a senior assistant state's attorney, objected to the case as “the most egregious abuse of the writ of habeas corpus that we have witnessed and that the courts have accumulated a record of.” It took place on the same day that the New Jersey Assembly approved legislation to abolish its death penalty. The bill is expected to be signed by Gov. Jon S. Corzine, making the state the first in four decades to ban executions. New York effectively banned its death penalty in 2004 when the State Supreme Court found flaws in the law, and legislators let the decision stand. Although Connecticut has not executed anyone in decades, the murder of a mother and her two daughters in Cheshire last summer forced the issue of capital punishment into the state's collective consciousness. Lawyers for Connecticut inmates spent the morning arguing against a motion by the state to dismiss their habeas corpus challenge on the grounds that they had taken too long to develop their argument and had abandoned an earlier study, paid for by taxpayers, on whether the death penalty was discriminatory.