Download this Paper Open PDF in Browser

People v. Cahill: Domestic Violence and the Death Penalty Debate in New York

24 Pages Posted: 20 Jul 2007  

Russell G. Murphy

Suffolk University Law School


This article proposes changes in the 1994 State of New York death penalty statute designed to deal with the reversal of the capital sentence in the 2003 NY Court of Appeals decision in People v. Cahill. In 1998, the defendant Jeff Cahill brutally attacked his wife with an aluminum baseball bat during a domestic quarrel. Six months later Mr. Cahill snuck into his wife's hospital room, where she was continuing her recovery from the earlier attack, and poisoned her to death with stolen potassium cyanide. Jeff Cahill's death sentence was reversed when the Court of Appeals found the evidence at trial insufficient to satisfy two provisions of the statute: the intentional killing of a witness to prevent testimony at trial and intentional killings during the commission of aggravated burglary sections of the statute.

Shortly after the decision in People v. Cahill, the NY Court of Appeals invalidated the entire death penalty statute on State constitutional grounds. Extensive legislative hearings were then held in 2004 and 2005 on whether capital punishment should be restored in New York. This article offers four additions and modifications to a revised death penalty statute that would prevent a brutal killer like Mr.Cahill from escaping the maximum penalty imposed by NY law. It takes no position on whether NY should continue to impose the death penalty. It argues, rather, that any state law that imposes the most severe criminal penalty available, whether a death sentence or life in prison without parole, should cover "the worst of the worst" intentional killings. These must include murders that are done with deliberate and premeditated intent to kill, involve the execution of incapacitated victims, occur during certain specified burglaries, or are in violation of pre-existing domestic violence restraining orders. The article proposes statutory language for provisions of this kind.

These proposals were presented during the legislative hearings on restoration of capital punishment. Currently, New York has chosen not to adopt a new death penalty statute. Therefore, this article should be considered by lawmakers in any state that is re-examining its first degree murder statute.

Suggested Citation

Murphy, Russell G., People v. Cahill: Domestic Violence and the Death Penalty Debate in New York. Albany Law Review, Vol. 68, p. 1029, 2005. Available at SSRN:

Russell G. Murphy (Contact Author)

Suffolk University Law School ( email )

120 Tremont Street
Boston, MA 02108-4977
United States

Paper statistics

Abstract Views