Will Connecticut Abolish the Death Penalty?

Connecticut may become the fifth state in the last five years to end the death penalty. The state Senate will likely vote today on a measure that would end capital punishment in all future cases. However, it would not have a direct impact on any of the 11 people currently on death row. If the Senate approves the measure, it will probably have an easy path forward; both the House and the governor support the repeal. But the vote will almost certainly be very close.

The state has hardly been liberal with the death penalty. In the last five decades, the state has only executed one person, a serial killer who ultimately supported the sentence. There's been talk of repealing the death penalty in Connecticut for a while—the legislature passed a similar measure in 2009 only to have it vetoed by then Governor Jodi Rell.

A brutal triple murder in 2007 brought more attention to capital crimes. Two men broke into the home of the wealthy Petit family in Chesire, murdering the mother and two daughters. The horrific case became a tabloid sensation, and William Petit, the father and sole survivor of the attack, supported the death penalty sentences both men received. The current proposal helps side-step the issue of the Petit family murders, as it does not change the sentences for those currently on death row.

Among those supporting the repeal are a core group of family members of murder victims who argue the money spent on litgating capital cases could instead go to helping families and victims. Over 100 supporters signed a letter to lawmakers arguing the system is broken. "In Connecticut, the death penalty is a false promise that goes unfulfilled, leaving victims’ families frustrated and angry after years of fighting the legal system," the letter read. "And as the state hangs onto this broken system, it wastes millions of dollars that could go toward much needed victims’ services.” Some testified last year to say the punishment does little to help them heal.
 
Religious leaders have also organized in support of the bill. Scheduled around the Easter holiday, on Tuesday the leaders re-enacted the Stations of the Cross—which depict Jesus' journey carrying the cross—as they marched to the state Capitol. The walk also included prayer and meditation on the death penalty. NAACP President Benjamin Jealous also held a press conference with Governor Dannel Malloy to show support for the effort. 
 
A Quinnipiac poll two weeks ago complicated the debate. Critics seized on the 62 percent of respondents who oppose a death penalty repeal. But as the Hartford Courant noted, those supporting the measure had other numbers to point to; when it came to choosing between life in prison without parole and the death penalty, the state is almost split. 
 
The governor, who supports the measure but has not pushed legislators on it, was quick to dismiss the poll. Malloy roots his opposition in the years he spent as a New York prosecutor, where he saw the disproportionate sentencing of minority men to death. "If [we] had taken a poll on civil rights in the United States in 1962, we'd still have Jim Crow laws,'' he told the Hartford Courant. 

 

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