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Conn. death penalty case delayed pending appeal

HARTFORD — A West Hartford death penalty case will not move forward until after the state Supreme Court decides whether Connecticut’s repeal of capital punishment last year is constitutional, a judge ruled Monday.

Hartford Superior Court Judge Joan Alexander postponed proceedings in Eduardo Santiago’s case and scheduled a status conference in October.

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Santiago, 33, was sentenced to death by lethal injection in 2005 for the murder-for-hire killing of 45-year-old Joseph Niwinski in West Hartford in 2000.

The state Supreme Court overturned the death sentence and ordered a new penalty phase last year, saying the trial judge wrongly withheld key evidence from the jury regarding the severe abuse Santiago suffered while growing up.

The Supreme Court ruling was issued two months after the state abolished the death penalty for murders committed after April 24, 2012, leaving Santiago and the 10 other men on death row still facing execution.

The Supreme Court, in another appeal brought by Santiago’s lawyers, is now deciding whether the death penalty repeal for future murders violates the constitutional rights of the 11 death row inmates. A ruling is not expected for at least several months.

Santiago watched the brief court hearing on Monday from prison via video conference

It has never been clear whether Santiago killed Niwinski. Two other men, Matthew Tyrell and Mark Pascual, pleaded guilty in the killing and are serving life in prison. Santiago and Tyrell were in Niwinski’s home at the time of the fatal shooting, but each accused the other.

Prosecutors said Pascual ordered the killing because he was infatuated with Niwinski’s girlfriend, believed Niwinski was abusing her, and wanted him dead.

Santiago denies being promised a broken snowmobile in exchange for killing Niwinski.

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