Tommy and Kathleen Morley of Simsbury, Connecticut, breathed an enormous sigh of relief when it was announced that Connecticut will repeal its death penalty statute. The Morleys' 17-year-old son, Rob, had been arrested over a dozen times on charges ranging from petty shoplifting to arson, and Rob's parents could tell that their depressed son was on a dangerous track toward committing more and more serious offenses, with the subconscious aim of eventually being sentenced to death by the Connecticut criminal courts.
As Rob's father put it, "He's always had a death wish. He's just too scared to pull the trigger."
According to Mr. and Mrs. Morley, Rob was a well-behaved, if melancholy, child, with no aim of breaking the law. But that all changed one hot summer day in 2007, when Rob was twelve years old. That day, Rob stopped into a neighborhood convenience store to purchase a bottle of Dr. Pepper. He grabbed the bottle from the refrigerated case and, thirsty from the heat, opened it immediately to take a long swig, before paying - thereby technically committing the crime of shoplifting.
Rob's mother explained, "Apparently the store owner had had problems with shoplifting in the past, and he wanted to set an example. So he called the cops on Rob, and the police hauled him in to the police station in a patrol car, lights flashing and everything. Rob was convicted of petty shoplifting and labeled a juvenile delinquent."
As it turned out, juvenile delinquency provided Rob a newfound, if fleeting, sense of self-worth. Rob's sister, Patty, recalled that the arrest gave Rob a reputation as a "badass" at their junior high school. But despite the pleasurable attention, Rob remained depressed.
And as Rob's depression worsened, so did his crimes. First was a burglary attempt: Rob attempted to break into an apartment in a subsidized housing development in Hartford, Connecticut, at 3:00 on a Saturday morning, but was stymied by the metal bars on the windows and the bullet-proof glass.
"Who breaks into the projects?" said Patty, shaking her head at the recollection. "It was obvious he wanted to get beat up or killed."
The burglary attempt was followed by an arson/terrorism attempt in which Rob tried to set his own backpack on fire and throw it into a vacant schoolyard; however, the flame-retardant knapsack wouldn't burn, and no real damage was done to the school or himself.
According to his family, Rob's "pathetic" criminal attempts made him still more depressed, and he began talking about death row.
"He tried to commit treason because he heard that was a capital crime," recounted Rob's mom. "He wrote a long letter to the governor saying he was an anarchist and was formally rejecting his United States citizenship and was going to do everything he could to overthrow the government. But they didn't take him seriously. He got a form letter back thanking him for taking an interest in politics."
"He would have kept trying, though," predicted Patty Morley. "He didn't want to commit murder, but he was determined to figure out how to get on death row."
That suicidal plan was foiled, however, when, in April of 2012, Connecticut announced its planned elimination of the state death penalty. And once death row was no longer an option, Rob gained a new interest in life. He abandoned all his attempted criminal activities and delved passionately into exciting new hobbies like fencing, outdoor rock-climbing, skydiving, motorcycle-riding, race-car driving and bungee-jumping.
The dangerous nature of Rob's new interests hasn't escaped his family. Nevertheless, they're delighted with Rob's shift in focus.
"It's obvious he still has a death wish," says Mr. Morley. "But at least he's having fun with it now."