Exploring the Death Penalty: The case of Richard Roszkowski and Holly and Kylie Flannery

Last week in Bridgeport, the trial of Richard Roszkowski, convicted of two counts of capital felony and three counts of murder entered the penalty phase. If he is given the death penalty, he will become the 11th person on death row in Connecticut. The same week, Gov. Rell vetoed a bill to repeal the death penalty in Connecticut.

Gov. Rell’s veto was covered by hundreds of news stories. Dr. Petit, whose wife and two daughters were brutally murdered has received a lot of press. Mr. Roszkowski’s trial received by but a few stories.

People have suggested that this illustrates the uneven application of the death penalty. The murder of the wife and daughters of a doctor gains much more notoriety than the murder of the girlfriend of a career criminal and her daughter.

One trial lawyer, upon hearing about my interested in the death penalty suggested that I attend some of the trial and perhaps provide additional coverage. So, today, I attended part of the hearing. Read on to get my experience.

The penalty phase started on June 1st, but I have been traveling and couldn’t attend the trial until today. My understanding is that the penalty phase had been postponed briefly at the request of the State’s Attorneys when they learned that the defense would be calling experts in neuropsychology that would show that Roszkowski was significantly emotionally disturbed.

The State presented its case that there were aggravating factors on June 1 and on the June 2, the defense began presenting its evidence for mitigating factors. I wasn’t sure if the trial would be continuing into the second week, so I went to the Connecticut Judicial Website and looked up the case. Sure enough, the case was still being heard.

The website listed two locations for the Superior Court in Bridgeport, one at 1 Lafayette Circle and the other at 1061 Main Street. I’ve never been to court in Bridgeport, so I wasn’t sure which building to go to. I tried the location on Lafayette Circle first, and found that I needed to be at the other location.

At 1061 Main Street, I checked the various calendars listed on the wall. There were cases on the family court docket and foreclosure cases, but I didn’t see anything about criminal cases. I went into the Clerks office and asked for information about the death penalty case and the first person wasn’t sure what I was talking about. A different person came up to the window and we determined that the courtroom I was looking for was Room 3B.

According to the website, the hearing was supposed to begin at 9:30. I was there a bit early to allow for time to find the courtroom. As I entered the courtroom, I ran into a man, whom I believe was an assistant of the judge in this case. He let me know that the defense had told the jurors they expect to spend about three weeks presenting the mitigating evidence and they are two weeks into it. I mentioned that I had noted that the case was not getting much media coverage and he said that other than a few family members of the victims, there have been few other observers.

The assistant noted that the trial probably wouldn’t start until around 10. I asked if it would be okay if I sat quietly in the courtroom and waited. He replied that the court was “open to the public”, a phrase that he used often when I asked questions about observing the trial.

Courtroom 3B is one of the smaller courtrooms that I’ve visited as I blog about trials. It lacks the majesty of the Federal District Courts, or the Second Circuit. The walls are a pale green, the sort of institutional paint that the government must have bought at a discount over the years. The blue carpet was sturdy but well worn. The observers’ section was made up of three semicircular benches, each of which could probably hold about a dozen observers. The ceiling had a large circle with fluorescent lights.

I waited in the quiet room, listening to the hum of a distant fan, the steps of people in the outside hall and the occasional ‘bing’ of the elevators as they deposited people on the third floor.

I remembered when I had blogged the Libby Trial in Washington DC. It seemed like everyone and their brother was covering that case, and it was hard to find a unique perspective on the trial. This case was different. Other than a reporter or two writing about the first day of the penalty phase, I’ve not seen any recent coverage. Any perspective I wrote would be a perspective that isn’t in the press right now.

I wondered what it must be like to be a juror on a death penalty case. There aren’t a lot of death penalty cases in Connecticut.

One of the Marshall’s walked in. “How’s it going?” he asked me.

“Okay, yourself?” I responded.

There was something relaxed and almost casual feeling about the moments before the trial started.

Then, Arlene Mercer arrived. Ms. Mercer has set up memorials for many victims of homicide and tragedy; from as simple as putting stuffed animals at a memorial to trying to get fresh flowers for a funeral or raise money for a burial instead of cremation.

She spoke about Mr. Roszkowski, saying that he knew damn well what he was doing. He spoke about his request to read transcripts and him telling his public defenders they were fired. She spoke about praying that sooner or later, he would break down, perhaps if someone wore the same perfume that his girlfriend had worn.

As she spoke, Mr. Roszkowski was led in, in handcuffs. He was nicely dressed with a smirk on his face which Ms. Mercer commented upon. As she provided me information about a charity she has set up the marshals talked about new pizza joints and supersizing their lunches. She told me her charity has been registered with the State and donations can be sent to Charity Organization for Homicide and Tragedy Victims, 110 Read St, Bridgeport, CT 06607

A few minutes after ten, the judicial dance began. A marshal shouted out, “incoming”, and some doors were opened, as others were shut. Evidence was covered and the jurors walked in and headed off to their chambers.

As the legal teams walked in, a man with collar length white hair glanced at the observers and on seeing me, did a double take. I presented a new and different face in the gallery. I later learned that this was Assistant Public Defender Miles Gerety.

A little online research about Mr. Gerety reveals a fascinating background. His son worked for the Kerry campaign in 2004 and he ended up in the movie “And So Goes the Nation” about that campaign. His father, Pierce Gerety served as deputy director of the U.S. State Department under President Eisenhower. His brother, Pierce Gerety, Jr. was working for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and died on a plane crash back in 1998.

One of the marshals twiddled his thumbs as he waited for the proceedings to begin. Soon, the “All Rise” is heard as Judge John Kavanewsky enters the courtroom. The defendant was lead in. He jerked his head to toss back his hair and then combed it. He repeated this several times as the hearing begins.

Before the jurors were led in, the Judge addressed administrative issues. He made some ruling about access to the court records and then heard a discussion about the admissibility of the defense exhibits QQQ and RRR. These are medical records that the State asserted are neither reliable nor relevant. The defense noted that the difference between what was submitted and what had been previously available was a result of the initial documents being obtained through a release instead of a subpoena.

The Judge ruled that the exhibits should be admitted. He said that it should be up to the jury to determine how much weight they chose to put on the evidence and that he did not find the reliability argument persuasive.

With these issues out of the way, the jury was brought in and a witness took the stand. From the context, it appeared as if she is an investigator for the Public Defenders office, and had been on the stand already. They start off by talking about Department of Corrections records. RTV1 is a log of visitors that a prisoner has. RT60 is a list of moves within the Corrections system. RT67 is a list of disciplinary actions. Mr. Roszkowski’s first recorded disciplinary action was June 16, 1992, and his most recent was Feb 5, 2007.

Dental records were also submitted as evidence. On March 11th, 2005, he went to a prison dentist because a bridge that he had had for 25 years had come out. The dental records show that he said he was leaving soon and wanted to look good for his mother and girlfriend. He was released three days later.

Additional evidence was then introduced. There was a notebook from Mr. Roszkowski which included a todo list of things like fix brakes, put money in checking account, something about detox, doing laundry and getting teeth fixed. The defense related this to records of the defendant’s car being in the shop.

The defense also introduced a birthday card from Holly Flannery, the woman that Mr. Roszkowski murdered that had been sent to his mother. Parts of the card were read, including, “P.S. I miss you”.

As more evidence was presented, the Senior State’s Attorney C. Robert Satti, Jr. remarked “I need time to review this”.

Public Defender Joseph Bruckman, a tall and imposing man retorted, “It was previously provided, sir”.

Attorney Satti does not object to the evidence, but denies that the material had previously been provided. It felt to me as if the State was simply stalling or dragging out the proceedings.

One piece of evidence was a letter from Ms. Flannery which started off with “If I should die …”. It said that people should investigate Richard Roszkowski. It ended with the request, “Tell Kylie I love her”. Kylie was Ms. Flannery’s nine-year-old daughter who was also murdered by Mr. Roszkowski.

With this, the list of visitors to Mr. Roszkowski was re-examined. Ms. Flannery visited Mr. Roszkowski three more times over the following months after she sent that letter. The drive was about an hour from Bridgeport.

At around 11:30, I left. I needed to get to the end of the school year celebration for my daughter’s class. At the school, I saw my daughter stand on the stage with her friends and classmates. They sang a song, “This Pretty Planet”

This pretty planet, spinning through space,
Your garden, your harbor, your holy place.
See the sun going down
Gentle blue giant, spin us around
All through the night, safe ‘til the morning light.

The fourth year students got up and recited part of the poem, “Hold Fast Your Dreams” by Louise Driscoll.

Hold fast your dreams.
Within your heart
Keep one still, secret spot
Where dreams may go,
And sheltered so
May thrive and grow –
Where dobut and fear are not.
Oh, keep a place apart
With your heart
For little dreams to go.”

Afterwards, I went to my daughter’s classroom for refreshments and to talk with other parents. The contrast between the hearing and thoughts about what happened on that horrible day back in 2006 and the dreams of these young students was jarring. I listened to people talking about the home invasion in Cheshire and there concerns about if their homes were safe enough.

I don’t know the whole story about what went on with Mr. Roszkowski, his mother, his girlfriend, and his girlfriend’s daughter and I’m glad I’m not a juror on this case. I oppose the death penalty for many reasons, and I can see why people hearing about this case might want to see Mr. Roszkowski executed. Yet if he is executed, he may die before he ever shows the remorse that Ms. Mercer prays for.

If we simply had life in prison without option of parole, the money spent on determining if Mr. Roszkowski should be executed would be saved, and could even be used for better purposes, like helping victims grieve and memorialize their loved ones, as well as finding programs so that other people do not head down the same path that Mr. Roszkowski has.

I am busy with other aspects of my life. I do not know how much more time I will be able to make available to follow this case. It was hard for me to go to the hearing today. Yet it was important for me as I seek to better understand the world around me.

I understand how newspapers might not have the resources to cover cases like this as well. However, I think we are all diminished by not hearing and struggling with these stories.

No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.

If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend's or of thine own were: any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.