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April 12, 2012

Connecticut bill to repeal of death penalty to become law with Governor's signature

As reported in this New York Times article, following "more than nine hours of debate, the Connecticut House of Representatives voted on Wednesday to repeal the state’s death penalty, following a similar vote in the State Senate last week."  Here is more:

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, a Democrat, has said he will sign the bill, which would make Connecticut the 17th state — the 5th in five years — to abolish capital punishment for future cases.

Mr. Malloy’s signature will leave New Hampshire and Pennsylvania as the only states in the Northeast that still have the death penalty.  New Jersey repealed it in 2007. New York’s statute was ruled unconstitutional by the state’s highest court in 2004, and lawmakers have not moved to fix the law.

The vote, after more than two decades of debate and the 2009 veto of a similar bill by the governor at the time, M. Jodi Rell, a Republican, came against the backdrop of one of the state’s most horrific crimes: a 2007 home invasion in Cheshire in which Jennifer Hawke-Petit and her daughters, Hayley, 17, and Michaela, 11, were held hostage and murdered, two of the three raped, and their house set afire by two habitual criminals who are now on death row. Ms. Hawke-Petit’s husband, Dr. William A. Petit Jr., who was badly beaten but escaped, has since been an ardent advocate for keeping the death penalty.

The bill exempts the 11 men currently on death row, including Joshua Komisarjevsky and Steven J. Hayes, the men convicted of the Petit murders.

The measure was approved by a vote of 86 to 62, largely along party lines.  The legislation will make life in prison without possibility of parole the state’s harshest punishment.  It mandates that those given life without parole be incarcerated separately from other inmates and be limited to two hours a day outside the prison cell.

In a statement released late Wednesday night, Governor Malloy said the repeal put Connecticut in the same position as nearly every other industrialized nation on the death penalty.  “For decades, we have not had a workable death penalty,” he said, noting that only one person has been executed in Connecticut in the last 52 years.  “Going forward, we will have a system that allows us to put these people away for life, in living conditions none of us would want to experience.  Let’s throw away the key and have them spend the rest of their natural lives in jail.”

Thirteen proposed amendments from supporters of capital punishment, most of which would have allowed the death penalty in certain cases, were defeated during the debate, in which many legislators told personal stories of the effects of violent crime.  The lawmakers also invoked a wide variety of people, from mass murderers to Immanuel Kant to Sir Thomas More....

Republican critics of the bill said the exemption for those currently awaiting execution cast a cloud over the vote, both because it undercut the moral argument of death penalty opponents and because future appeals or government action had the potential to spare the 11 men....

After Connecticut’s repeal, 33 states will have capital punishment, along with the United States government when it prosecutes cases in the federal courts. Voters in California will be asked in November whether to abolish the death penalty in that state.

Capital punishment in Connecticut dates to colonial times. From 1639 to 2005, it performed 126 executions, first by hanging, then by the electric chair, and since 1973, by lethal injection. But since 1976, when the Supreme Court allowed the resumption of executions, there has been just one person executed in the state: Michael Bruce Ross, a serial killer who voluntarily gave up his right to further appeals and was put to death in 2005. The last person involuntarily put to death, in 1960, was Joseph (Mad Dog) Taborsky, who committed a string of robberies and killings....

In the Connecticut Senate, where passage seemed most in doubt, the bill was approved 20 to 16 on April 5, with 2 Democrats and all 14 Republicans opposed. Democrats have a majority in both chambers of the General Assembly....

The political fight over the bill could persist long after the vote. Republicans are likely to put the issue in play in the fall when all 36 State Senate and 151 State House seats are up for election.  A recent Quinnipiac University poll found that 62 percent of Connecticut residents thought abolishing the death penalty was “a bad idea,” though polls over time have found respondents split relatively evenly if given the option of life without parole as an alternative to executions.

Governor Malloy's statement — in which he states "I am pleased the House passed the bill, and when it gets to my desk I will sign it" — is available at this link.

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April 12, 2012 at 07:50 AM | Permalink

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Comments

|| "The bill exempts… Joshua Komisarjevsky and Steven J. Hayes, the men convicted of the Petit murders."

Anti-DP tyrants/dogmatists (with rousing 23% support) cannot defend paying for the continuance of life of such as Komisarjevsky and Hayes.

Indeed, they will not argue why such an one *specifically is unworthy of the penalty, other than to say, carte blanche, that 'no-one should be…2 wrongs don't make a right…the state shouldn't be in the business or death…' That might be fine if it were not so roundly opposed by the people of Connecticut.

Unfortunately, the parties and candidates will surely emphasize other issues at election, so 2/3 of the voters will not have their well-informed will satisfied on this issue.

"The known propensity of a democracy is to licentiousness which the ambitious call, and ignorant believe to be liberty."~~Fisher Ames

Posted by: Adamakis | Apr 12, 2012 8:59:33 AM

interesting but i doubt it's even CLOSE to legal to pass a law that says basicaly we will now kill NOBODY in this state EXCEPT and then name a couple of names"


can everyone say CONSTUTIONAL VIOLATION!

Posted by: rodsmith | Apr 12, 2012 10:30:23 AM

Someone needs to explain the moral coherence of leaving the DP in place for those who've already earned it, but abolishing it prospectively, for possibly even more horrible murders, because it's barbaric. Is it going to get less barbaric in future years when those currently on death row are executed? This sort of thing could give stupidity a bad name.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Apr 12, 2012 12:22:35 PM

The article's use of the word "exempt" is misleading. The Act, does not "name names." It states that the legislative change is to apply prospectively only. And, quite frankly, I see nothing at all suspect about that. When a legislature decides to change a law, or more specifically, decides to lower the statutory maximum for a crime, there is no constitutional obligation to apply it to those sentenced under the old law. There is no constitutional violation here.

Posted by: anon | Apr 12, 2012 12:28:34 PM

"When a legislature decides to change a law, or more specifically, decides to lower the statutory maximum for a crime, there is no constitutional obligation to apply it to those sentenced under the old law."

Notably, the constitutions of many countries do expressly provide that inmates currently serving sentences have a constitutional right to benefit from a reduction in the statutory maximum sentence for the crime of which they have been convicted, although the United States is not one of them.

Posted by: ohwilleke | Apr 12, 2012 2:39:33 PM

@anon
"The article's use of the word "exempt" is misleading. The Act, does not "name names." It states that the legislative change is to apply prospectively only. And, quite frankly, I see nothing at all suspect about that."
What is suspect is that these legislators have to know that these inmates will get off death row following abolition. The appeals courts will not allow someone to be executed under a law that no longer exists.

Posted by: MikeinCT | Apr 12, 2012 3:11:27 PM

Hey MikeinCT, you may be right, but I don't think it's a sure thing. In NM for instance, they abolished the death penalty prospectively, but state courts have refused to apply that new law to the two men already on death row.

Posted by: dm | Apr 12, 2012 3:51:50 PM

well bill!

"Someone needs to explain the moral coherence of leaving the DP in place for those who've already earned it, but abolishing it prospectively, for possibly even more horrible murders, because it's barbaric. Is it going to get less barbaric in future years when those currently on death row are executed? This sort of thing could give stupidity a bad name.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Apr 12, 2012 12:22:35 PM"

Guess that would depend on WHY you canned the law. If you passed it becasue you decided it was just too expensive and a waste of time. You might have a chance!

Now if your passing it becasue your state has decided it's barbaric and savage and so on. Well then forward or backward looking it would STILL BE THOSE THINGS! in that case you don't have a prayer!

Posted by: rodsmith | Apr 12, 2012 4:23:46 PM

"The appeals courts will not allow someone to be executed under a law that no longer exists."

They allow people to be executed using means that no longer exist for others in various cases, partially because the legislature determined a particular means was unjust.

Posted by: Joe | Apr 12, 2012 7:12:22 PM

@Joe
If you're talking about the electric chair or firing squad, only inmates ASKING to die by those methods can receive them.

Posted by: MikeinCT | Apr 12, 2012 7:37:03 PM

@dm
That repeal only went into effect 2 and 1/2 years ago and neither man is anywhere near an execution date. When they actually resolve their appeals I believe this issue will be taken up again by the courts.

Posted by: MikeinCT | Apr 12, 2012 7:40:25 PM

@MikeinCt ... was that the rule in every case over the years nation-wide where the means changed? If so, they still will "allow" it when the inmate asks. So, that would be an exception to your general rule.

Posted by: Joe | Apr 12, 2012 10:20:56 PM

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