By PAT EATON-ROBB Associated Press
HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) _ A Connecticut inmate who launched a hunger strike recently to protest his confinement on death row has been moved to new quarters more than a year after his death sentence was overturned.
Eduardo Santiago told The Associated Press on Tuesday that he is now in a new cell at the Northern Correctional Institution, and has been told he will have access to privileges, such as access to a gymnasium, that are unavailable to death-row inmates.
“It’s more of a relief because death row has a certain stigma attached to it,” Santiago said. “People treat you a certain way because you are death row. And now that the stigma has been lifted, there is going to be a change in attitude toward my person.”
Santiago began the hunger strike two weeks ago to protest his continuing detention on death row despite a June 2012 Supreme Court ruling that threw out his sentence and ordered a new sentencing hearing.
The 34-year old from Torrington was sentenced in 2005 to die by lethal injection for the 2000 murder-for-hire killing of 45-year-old Joseph Niwinski in West Hartford. Santiago’s new sentencing hearing has been delayed while the Supreme Court considers whether a recent Connecticut law that abolished the death penalty for future crimes should also apply to current death-row inmates.
Correction Department spokeswoman Karen Martucci said she was notified Monday that Santiago was being re-classified. But she said the change in status was not related to his hunger strike.
“Inmate Santiago was and remains appropriately housed,” she said. “Our objective classification system allows for periodical reviews of an offender’s status. Special Needs consideration was proposed upon a review of classification scores with consideration to 15 months having passed without the commencement of the new penalty phase. Inmate Santiago’s situation is clearly a rare occasion.”
Santiago said he agreed to end the hunger strike when prison officials told him they would be changing his status. He said he believes publicity over his protest played a key role in getting him off death row.
“That was a huge pressure on them,” he said. “I can complain all I want, and they don’t care what I say. Once it gets in the public’s eye, creating pressure, that’s the only time things change.”
Santiago’s attorney, Walter Bansley III, had been seeking the change in status and had said the department never explained to him why Santiago was being housed under death-row conditions. He did not immediately return calls and emails Tuesday seeking comment.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Connecticut also took the public position that it was unlawful for Santiago to be housed on death row.
Prisoners sentenced to life without parole are allowed to be out of their cells six to seven hours a day and spend that time with other inmates. They also have access to the prison commissary and gym.
Connecticut’s death row inmates are held in single cells. They must be escorted by at least one staff person and placed in restraints when moving outside their cell. They are allowed outside their cells for two hours of recreation a day. One hour typically is spent indoors, in an area that houses a law library and the phone. The other is spent alone in a cage outside in a courtyard.
“Certainly nobody who is not under a death sentence should ever have been housed in those conditions,” David McGuire, a lawyer for the ACLU said.
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