Senate Republican leaders, joined by the families of murder victims, raised the alarm today over an increase in the number of sentence commutations for violent offenders under a new policy enacted by the Board of Pardons and Paroles and called on Gov. Ned Lamont to suspend commutations until it can be fully explained.
The commutation numbers just released by the Board of Pardons and Paroles, show that 71 individuals convicted of felonies had 95 sentences commuted in 2022, including 44 sentences for murder. That number is drastically higher than in previous years. Since 2016, the highest number of commutations was three, according to figures given during a press conference.
Calling the numbers “very alarming” and saying this impacts the families of violent crime victims, Senate Republican Leader Kevin Kelly called for oversight and reform to the Board of Pardons and Paroles, where a three-member panel decided on the commutations.
“These are very violent offenders, these are murderers, they’re getting decades and decades taken off their prison sentences,” Kelly said. “We’re calling on [Gov. Lamont] to suspend commutation until the administration can explain the reason for the astounding increase in commutations, especially in light of Superior Court’s ability to modify sentences has been expanded over the past year.”
Sen. Heather Somers, R-Groton, says commutations should be “extremely rare,” often reserved for incarcerated people with mitigating circumstances or facing a deadly disease with little time left to live, but that has changed.
“It’s also been noted by Chief Attorney Patrick Griffin that most of these commutations that are granted are granted over the objections of the family and the State’s Attorney’s Office,” Somers said. “Granting a commutation to a murderer sends a clear and poignant message that the life of the victim is not valued.”
“It must stop,” Somers said. “Commutations for murderers and serious offenders can and will undermine the public’s trust in our justice system. I have already had numerous phone calls expressing outrage at this policy that was written in the dark, without any legislative oversight, input, or notation.”
Republicans say the Board of Pardons and Paroles, which consists of appointees, unilaterally and with no oversight updated their policies in June of 2021, resulting in the increase in the number of commutation applications and dramatic rise in commuted sentences.
According to the statistics presented by the Board of Pardons and Paroles, they denied 212 applications but ultimately commuted 95 sentences for 71 incarcerated individuals, taking an average of 15.4 years off their sentence. In one case, an individual sentenced to 85 years had 62.3 years knocked off their sentence.
By and large, murders made up the largest number of commuted sentences with 44 commutations averaging a reduction of 14.1 years.
The next highest number of commutations was for felony murder with nine. There were also commutations for kidnapping, manslaughter and firearm offenses. On average, sentences were reduced from 44.9 years to 31.5 years.
Reached for comment, Executive Director for the Board of Pardons and Paroles Richard Sparaco said in an email that they suspended commutation applications in 2019 in order to update their policy and, following the COVID pause, were inundated with applications resulting in an increase in commutations.
Sparaco also disagrees that the policy change has resulted in the spike of commutations, saying they narrowed eligibility for commutation.
“The updated policy on Commutations drastically narrowed the eligibility criteria and defined suitability criteria (previously someone could apply only after 4 years, the new policy moved that to 10 years.) Per statute any can apply for a commutation but in 2021 the Board narrowed the pool of those who could apply,” Sparaco said. “Although the eligibility criteria was narrowed, the amount of individuals applying has increased dramatically.”
A visibly angry Sen. John Kissel, R-Enfield, who is ranking member on the Judicial Committee said lawmakers were completely unaware of what was happening, saying victim families who worked with prosecutors to reach fair sentences are being betrayed and forced to relive what happened to them.
“We weren’t apprised of what was going on,” Kissel said. “I am absolutely appalled, devasted by what I’ve learned, and I am calling on Gov. Lamont: Stop this right now. This needs to be a state policy that needs to be rigorously overseen. The legislature has got to weigh in.”
“Now three unelected individuals that are proposed by the governor that will come before the Judiciary, and we just pass on them, not even attorneys – not that you have to be one – review these individuals and decide,” Kissel said. “Who in the public is really aware of what is going on?”
The senators were joined by the families of murder victims who, at times, broke down recalling the memory of their loved ones. John Aberg of Lisbon, whose grandson, Andrew, was only three years old when he was murdered sixteen years ago, fought back tears as he spoke at the press conference.
“The person who molested and savagely beat him to death accepted a plea agreement to murder and a forty-year sentence,” Aberg said, adding that in order to reach that plea agreement, sexual assault charges were dropped. “We were assured that as part of the plea agreement, he would serve the entire forty years. It was a contract that both sides agreed to.”
“Now we’re told that plea agreement might not stand at all,” Aberg said. “We’re told that this murderer can apply for commutation right now.”
“I think once these facts are brought to light you’re going to get more individuals as shocked as we are as to what’s happened, and the need for oversight,” Kelly said.
March 17, 2023 @ 8:04 am
…all rise, the Honorable Judge Common Sense is presiding. Please be seated.
Time does not heal all ills. Be it for the victim or the defendant.
Escalating rates of murders should be met with escalating rates of time served.
Connecticut should be known as the toughest state in the union as it relates to assaults and murders.
Love and Death changes all things.
March 19, 2023 @ 9:35 am
That is what every state should be doing you intentionally harm someone you loose your freedom
March 24, 2023 @ 12:44 pm
Marc E. Fitch, thank you for informing the public about how absolutely irrational and abusive our representatives are.