7 Conn. inmates challenging death penalty

ROCKVILLE, Conn. (AP) — Connecticut death row inmates who have sued the state to get their sentences overturned, argue that race and geographic bias played a part in their criminal prosecution.

Seven of the 11 men on Connecticut's death row are plaintiffs in the case. They claim their penalty was decided in an arbitrary and discriminatory way based on their race and where they were prosecuted.

The trial of their lawsuit is scheduled to begin Wednesday at Northern Correctional Institution in Somers. The public can watch by video feed at Rockville Superior Court, about 15 miles away.

Connecticut abolished the death penalty this year, but the ban applies to capital cases since April 25.

The inmates' key evidence is a study commissioned by the chief public defender's office and conducted by Stanford University professor John Donahue.

Donahue reviewed the nearly 4,700 murders in Connecticut from 1973 to 2007. He concluded that minority defendants in murder cases with white victims are three times more likely to receive a death sentence as white defendants in murder cases with white victims.

He also found that minority defendants convicted of death penalty-eligible murders of white victims are six times more likely to receive a death sentence than minority defendants convicted of death penalty-eligible murders of minority victims.

Connecticut state prosecutors hired their own expert who reviewed death penalty cases and disputed much of Donahue's findings.

Six of the men on Connecticut's death row are black; four are white; one is Hispanic.

The plaintiff inmates, all sentenced before 2008, are Sedrick Cobb, Daniel Webb, Richard Reynolds, Robert Breton, Jesse Campbell, Lazale Ashby and Todd Rizzo.

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