Today, Debbie Jaeger spoke in Albany at the New York State Assembly’s hearing on the death penalty. Ms. Jaeger is the sister of Jill Russell Cahill, a Tonawanda native whose tragic murder in Syracuse at the hands of her husband sparked outrage across New York State. Ms. Jaeger was invited to speak at the hearing by Assemblyman Robin Schimminger who announced that he is introducing legislation to strengthen and fill gaps in New York State’s death penalty law in the wake of recent New York Court of Appeals decisions. Schimminger said, "The Court has thrown the death penalty back to the Legislature, and we need to step up to the challenge."
In the Cahill case, the Court of Appeals ruled in November of 2003 that James Cahill’s 1998 poisoning of his wife in the hospital room where she was recovering from severe head injuries caused by his earlier beating of her with a baseball bat did not meet the current law’s standard for burglary as an aggravating factor, and it overturned his first degree murder conviction and death sentence. In a separate ruling issued on a different case in June 2004, the Court said the state’s death penalty statute results in jury instructions that the court considers impermissible.
In her testimony, Ms. Jaeger described her family’s drawn-out ordeal through the appeal and concluded, "This law continues to victimize the victims. It’s time to restore an effective death penalty law so other families will be spared the pain and suffering we have endured."
"The Cahill decision and other recent decisions by the Court indicate that New York State’s death penalty law is lacking in several areas," said Schimminger, "and over the last few months, I have been working with Ms. Jaeger, Professor Russell Murphy of Suffolk University Law School, and others to draft a legislative package that would address the current law’s deficiencies."
The bills in Schimminger’s legislative package arise from the facts of the Cahill case. The measures would add additional aggravating factors to the New York death penalty law including murder by a deliberate and premeditated design, murder of victims of significant mental or physical disability, murder of victims of recurrent domestic violence, and murder facilitated by burglary in the first or second degree. In addition, clarification regarding jury instruction will also be included.
"The availability of the death penalty in New York State has been negated by recent State Court of Appeals decisions," said Schimminger. "The availability of capital punishment should be restored in this state so that those persons convicted of murder in the first degree may be punished to the full extent of the law as determined by a jury."
The assemblyman concluded, "This state has already made the decision to have the death penalty. Now, we need to make it work."