Published July 17, 2012
| Associated Press
SOMERS, Conn. – Daniel Webb is awaiting execution for the 1989 kidnapping and murder of a Connecticut bank executive, but he believes he is also paying a price for another, unrelated crime that has heavily influenced the state's debate on capital punishment.
Webb told The Associated Press in a death row interview that he thinks there would be no capital punishment in the state if not for the public's desire to execute the men responsible for the 2007 home-invasion slayings of a mother and her two daughters in suburban Cheshire. The only survivor of that crime, Dr. William Petit, lobbied to keep the death penalty for the men who killed his family, Steven Hayes and Joshua Komisarjevsky.
"Dr. Petit is angry with them and with his anger he wants to kill all of us," said Webb, who spoke by telephone from behind a glass window. "Now you are trying to increase my suffering and take away the little that I had because you want to make Komisarjevsky suffer. That's not right."
Webb was sentenced to die for the slaying in Hartford of Diane Gellenbeck, a 37-year-old Connecticut National Bank vice president, who was taken from a downtown parking garage and shot to death near a local golf course as she ran from an attempted sexual assault.
The state legislature in April abolished capital punishment, but only for future crimes. Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and key state lawmakers had insisted on that as a condition of their support for repeal in a long-running debate that focused on the Petit case.
"If you are going to abolish the death penalty, abolish the death penalty," said Webb. "I don't think you can have a law that has double standards. Abolish means abolish, doesn't it?"
A spokesman for Malloy declined to comment on Webb's assertion.
William Petit's sister, Hanna Petit Chapman, said she does not care what Webb thinks. She compared him to her relatives' killers for laying blame with others.
"His condemnation is a direct result of his choices and actions. His finger pointing and blaming others sounds very familiar to what we heard from Komisarjevsky and Hayes. He could have let her go, yet, chose to shoot her five times when she escaped. I am not sure how that translates to being my family's fault," she said.
The balding, bearded Webb also complained during the hour-long interview Friday that the conditions of his confinement are unbearable and amount to torture.
Death-row inmates at Northern Correctional Institution are kept isolated in 8-by-12 foot cells with almost no human contact, even with other death-row inmates. They are given an hour of recreation a day, alone in cell-sized cages in the prison yard.
Webb, 49, says he has no friends on death row. He can only communicate by shouting through his steel door or into an air vent, something he says makes conversations with other inmates almost impossible.
Correction Department spokesman Brian Garnett described the conditions as humane and constitutional.
The mother of Webb's victim is not sympathetic. Dorothy Gellenbeck, 86, said Webb deserves to live in the harshest conditions and to die for killing her daughter.
"I have had a lot of years to miss my girl," Gellenbeck said from her home in Pennington, N.J. "I don't care what the new Connecticut law is. He is guilty of murder and at the time of the murder the death penalty was in effect. And why should he live, when he killed someone?"
Connecticut's only execution since 1960 came in 2005, after serial killer Michael Ross voluntarily gave up his appeals.
"I can now see what can push a man to that point," said Webb. "I'd rather be dead than live like this."
Webb said he attempted to hang himself in January, and later wrote a letter to court officials asking to give up his appeals and be executed. He has since rescinded that decision, saying lawyers and mental health professionals convinced him to wait and see how legal challenges to the death penalty are received.
Chief State's Attorney Kevin Kane testified during public hearings this spring that he expects inmates to challenge the constitutionality of keeping them on death row by arguing the sentence is now unfairly applied based on the date of the crime.
Webb said he also has evolved and matured since 1989. Nobody, he said, should be held in isolation, just waiting to die.
"I'm still human," he said. "People grow. Even people as despised as Joshua or Hayes, they can change over time."