STATE v. TODD RIZZO, SC 17527
Judicial District of Waterbury
Criminal; Death Penalty; Constitutionality of Weighing Provisions of General Statutes § 53a-46a; Constitutionality of Death Sentence in Absence of Finding of Specific Intent to Inflict Extreme Pain; Sufficiency of Evidence that Defendant Inflicted Extreme Pain; Whether Waiver of Right to Jury Trial in Sentencing Phase was Knowing, Intelligent and Voluntary; Whether Judge should have Recused Himself; Whether Sentence was due, in part, to Absence of Standards for Guiding Prosecutorial Discretion in Seeking Death Penalty; Whether Death Penalty is Constitutional. The defendant pleaded guilty to murder and capital felony in connection with an incident in which the defendant, who was then eighteen years old, bludgeoned a thirteen year old boy to death by repeated blows to the body and head with a sledgehammer. The trial court sentenced the defendant to death by lethal injection. The Supreme Court reversed the judgment and ordered a new sentencing hearing. See State v. Rizzo, 266 Conn. 171 (2003). After twenty days of voir dire, the defendant waived his right to a jury trial and opted for a hearing before a three-judge panel. At the hearing, the state alleged, as an aggravating factor, that the crime was committed in an especially heinous, cruel or depraved manner. The panel found unanimously that both the aggravating factor and a mitigating factor had been proven and that the aggravating factor outweighed the mitigating factor. The mitigating factor that the panel found proven was the cumulative effect of all of the evidence of the defendant's character, background and history. The defendant was again sentenced to death. On appeal, the defendant, among other things, challenges the constitutionality of his sentence because the sentencing panel did not find that he specifically intended to inflict extreme physical and psychological pain on the victim above and beyond that necessarily accompanying the underlying killing. He further argues that there was insufficient evidence to support the panel's findings that the victim experienced extreme pain and that the defendant was callous and indifferent to his infliction of such pain. The defendant also challenges the constitutionality of General Statutes § 53a-46a on the ground that it dilutes or screens out mitigating evidence from consideration. He specifically points to that statute's requirement that the sentencer find that an alleged mitigating factor is established by the evidence and that it is “mitigating in nature, considering all the facts and circumstances of the case” before it can weigh the mitigating factor against any proven aggravating factors. The defendant additionally claims that his waiver of his right to a jury trial was not made knowingly, intelligently and voluntarily and that the judge that presided over the sentencing hearing should have recused himself because he had presided over voir dire and had made statements suggesting a bias against the defendant and in cases of this nature. The defendant also argues that his sentence resulted, in part, from the lack of standards guiding prosecutorial discretion to seek the death penalty and the resulting greater likelihood of receiving a death sentence in the Waterbury judicial district. The defendant also requests that the Supreme Court revisit its prior death penalty decisions and hold that, under the state constitution, the death penalty constitutes cruel and unusual punishment.