Death penalty repeal bill to resurface in legislature

By: JC Reindl
The Day
Thursday, February 23, 2012

Hartford - A bill that would repeal the death penalty is moving forward in the legislature.

The General Assembly's Judiciary Committee voted 23 to 15 Wednesday to raise the repeal bill for this year's short session.

The wording is expected to be similar to that which passed the committee last year, replacing execution with life imprisonment without parole. It would also be a "prospective" measure and not apply to the 11 convicts currently on Connecticut's death row, only to future crimes.

State Rep. Ernest Hewett, D-New London, voted against raising the bill Wednesday, while state Rep. Elissa Wright, D-Groton, voted for it.

Hewett said afterward that he believes the death penalty is warranted for the most heinous crimes. He also pointed out that legal experts predict that any "prospective" repeal would result in appeals by death row inmates that overturn their sentences.

"As soon as we pass it, there will be lawsuits filed and they [death row inmates] will never, ever see the death penalty," Hewett said.

Wright believes life imprisonment without parole is a more appropriate punishment than execution. "I hope this will be the year the bill passes in both chambers," she said.

Last year's bill never came to a formal vote after state Sens. Edith Prague, D-Columbia, and Andrew Maynard, D-Stonington, changed their minds about repealing the death penalty after meetings with Dr. William Petit, the sole survivor of the 2007 Cheshire home-invasion murders.

Maynard has said he intends to vote for repeal bill this year because both home invasion trials are over and the killers, Steven Hayes and Joshua Komisarjevsky, have been sentenced to death.

Prague said Wednesday that she remains undecided. However, if she were to support a death penalty repeal measure, Prague said, she would want that bill to contain restrictions.

"I don't think somebody sitting in prison for life for having committed a heinous crime should have a good time," Prague said. "I think there should be severe restrictions on their activity because I think if you take someone else's life, there needs to be a severe penalty."

A 2011 Quinnipiac University poll found 67 percent of registered Connecticut voters in favor the death penalty.

State Rep. Steven Mikutel, a proponent of keeping the death penalty, said that legislators should adhere to the wishes of state residents - not well-organized interest groups that stack public hearings and flood their inboxes with pro-repeal messages.

"The people are up against a small group of dedicated fanatics who have made their mission in life to abolish the death penalty," Mikutel said. "The life of a cold-blooded killer seems to be more valued by these advocates than the innocent murdered, and that is morally wrong."

Ben Jones, executive director of the Connecticut Network to Abolish the Death Penalty, said that institutions including the Catholic and Episcopal churches as well as the NAACP strongly support repeal.

"Those are not fanatical groups in my mind," Jones said.

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy has said he will sign legislation ending capital punishment if it can pass the legislature and reach his desk. Former Gov. M. Jodi Rell vetoed a repeal bill in 2009.