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Connecticut State House Votes to Repeal Death Penalty

Resource type: News

Connecticut Post | [ View Original Source (opens in new window) ]

This article highlights Atlantic grantee Connecticut Network to Abolish the Death Penalty (CNADP) in its report that the Connecticut House of Representatives voted to repeal the death penalty with an 86-62 vote. The repeal now moves to the desk of Governor Dannel P. Malloy, who is expected to sign it. If passed, the bill would make Connecticut the 17th state, and the 5th state in five years, to abolish capital punishment for future cases. This is a huge victory for grantees the CNADP and the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, which have been working for years to repeal the death penalty in this and other states.

HARTFORD — The Democratic-dominated House of Representatives, with a few Republicans, late Wednesday voted 86-62 to repeal the state’s all-but-dormant death penalty.

Under the bill, which passed the Senate last week and Gov. Dannel P. Malloy plans to sign into law, the 11 men on death row would stay on track for lethal injections after further legal appeals.

“I’m pleased the House passed the bill, and when it gets to my desk I will sign it,” Malloy said in a statement late Wednesday.

In the future, capital felons — the state’s worst killers — would face a new charge of murder under special circumstances, with a penalty of life in prison without the possibility of release from maximum-security conditions.

The legislation passed after nine-and-a-half hours of debate and 11 Republican amendments, which would have forced the bill back to the Senate, failed. The GOP amendments would have retained the death penalty for a variety of offenses, including terrorism, killing cops, prison guards and residents during home invasions.

At the nine-hour mark, Republicans proposed a final amendment to allow for a non-binding statewide referendum on the death penalty. It failed 93-54.

Nineteen of the 99-member Democratic caucus, including veteran Rep. Bob Godfrey, D-Danbury, voted against the bill. Eight of the 52 Republicans, including Reps. Michael Molgano of Stamford, T.R. Rowe of Trumbull, Richard Smith of New Fairfield and Lile Gibbons of Greenwich, voted for the repeal.

House Minority Leader Lawrence F. Cafero Jr., R-Norwalk, attacked the overall bill, charging that despite promises from supporters, a repeal would become instant grounds for appeal from those on death row in the Northern Correctional Institution in Somers.

“Those sentenced to death still face the death penalty,” said Rep. Gerald M. Fox III, D-Stamford, co-chairman of the Judiciary Committee who brought the legislation for debate at about 1:20 p.m. “The bill expressly states that the penalty is prospective.”

“The bottom line is it has never been decided,” Cafero said of the constitutional implications for those on death row if the repeal becomes law.

Rep. David K. Labriola, R-Oxford, said that the majority of his district supports capital punishment. “By operation of law, the people now sentenced to death on death row in Connecticut, their sentences will be reduced to life without parole,” he said. “Let’s be clear about that.”

Rep. Themis Klarides, R-Derby, said that it makes sense to execute the state’s most violent criminals.

“It’s about those people who you can’t even imagine doing something so bad they are put into another category,” she said.

But Rep. Linda M. Gentile, D-Ansonia, who opposed the repeal in 2009, said she was changing her vote because of her five grandchildren.

“Executing criminals does not make our state any safer,” she said. “Killing is just plain wrong, whether it is done by a criminal or the state in the name of justice,”

Rep. Terry Backer, D-Stratford, said that he can’t support the death penalty when in recent years about 289 capital felons around the country have been exonerated.

“We have an imperfect system and there are many mistakes we make as government,” Backer said. “Unfortunately, when we are wrong in these cases, there is no way to put them back on track.”

Rep. Auden Grogins, D-Bridgeport, said the multi-decade appeals process is expensive for the state and takes an emotional toll on victims’ families.

“The law is costly, can be arbitrarily applied and does not produce accurate results,” said Grogins, a lawyer. “It is not unusual for the legal process, from the beginning to the end, to take 20 years.”

Rep. John F. Hennessy, D-Bridgeport, said that the repeal says a lot about the state. “It speaks to who we are as a people. It speaks to what we value. The debate is not about the life or death of a person convicted of a most-heinous murder, it’s about us as a people.”

Veteran Rep. T.R. Rowe, R-Trumbull, who joined the General Assembly in 1999, said he doubts that the current death penalty serves justice.

“I’m not sure that it’s justice, once the killer gets the death penalty for him to sit there in near perpetuity,” he said. “We either ought to have a real death penalty or none at all.”

For Dawn Mancarella, whose mother, Joyce Masury, of Milford, was murdered in 1996, abolishing capital punishment will put the state’s most-dangerous criminals behind bars for life.

Mancarella, of Milford, a member of the Connecticut Network to Abolish the Death Penalty, said during a morning news conference that her mother did not believe in the death penalty.

“My experience with the criminal justice system taught me that the death penalty does not help victims’ families,” she said. “The death penalty does not help us. We stand here united to call for repeal.”

Noting that her mother’s murder was not a capital felony case, Mancarella said that some CNADP members believe that the cases involving their loved ones get very little attention compared to the high-profile cases involving death penalty verdicts.

“Some of us have endured capital cases and are horrified that the death penalty ensnares them in a never-ending wait for execution,” she said. “In the meantime, the offender is made a celebrity and the victims’ families are forced to wait decades for an execution that in Connecticut will likely never come. Some of us are frustrated that we spend millions of dollars to keep a death penalty instead of investing in effective crime-prevention tools and ongoing support for those victims’ families in Connecticut who are in the throes of grief. Some of us don’t believe that the death penalty brings closure or justice. These are elusive terms that cannot compete with the violent, horrific loss of a murdered loved one. Nor will they bring that loved one back to us.”

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