Connecticut lawmakers to vote on death penalty repeal

Story highlights

  • Lawmakers are expected to vote on a bill that would abolish the state's death penalty
  • Last week, the bill passed the state Senate
  • If passed, Connecticut would become the fifth state in five years to abolish capital punishment
  • In the last five years, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York and Illinois have repealed the death penalty
Lawmakers in Connecticut's House of Representatives are expected to vote Wednesday on a bill that would abolish the state's death penalty, one week after the bill passed the state Senate.
If approved, House officials say, the measure would virtually guarantee that Connecticut will follow through on the repeal and become the fifth state in five years to abolish capital punishment.
Gov. Dannel Malloy, a Democrat, has promised to sign the measure into law should it reach his desk, his office said.
The state's House of Representatives is overwhelmingly Democrat, with only 52 Republicans in the 151-member body.
To repeal, lawmakers need a simple majority, according to officials from both parties.
In 2009, state lawmakers in both houses tried to pass a similar bill, but were ultimately blocked by then-Gov. Jodi Rell, a Republican.
Capital punishment has existed in Connecticut since its colonial days. But the state was forced to review its death penalty laws beginning in 1972, when a Supreme Court decision required greater consistency in its application. A moratorium was then imposed until a 1976 court decision upheld the constitutionality of capital punishment.
Since then, Connecticut juries have handed down 15 death sentences. Of those, only one person has actually been executed, according to the Death Penalty Information Center, a nonpartisan group that studies death penalty laws.
Michael Ross, a convicted serial killer, was put to death by lethal injection in 2005 after he voluntarily gave up his appeals.
The state currently has 11 people on death row. The bill, however, is prospective in nature, meaning that it would not apply to those already sentenced to death.
Advocates of a repeal say Connecticut's current law keeps inmates on death row for extended periods of time, who are often engaged in multiple appeals, and presents taxpayers with far larger costs than if the convict were placed in the general prison population serving a life sentence.
They also point to instances in which wrongful convictions have been overturned with new investigative methods, including forensic testing.
Opponents of the repeal commonly argue that capital punishment serves as a criminal deterrent, offering justice for victims and their families.
A recent Quinnipiac poll found that 62% of Connecticut residents think abolishing the death penalty is "a bad idea."
"No doubt the gruesome Cheshire murders still affect public opinion regarding convicts on death row," said Quinnipiac University Poll Director Douglas Schwartz.
His comments are in reference to the 2007 murders of three members of the Petit family in Cheshire, Connecticut. Steven Hayes and Joshua Komisarjevsky were convicted in the case and both were sentenced to death.
The high-profile case drew national attention and sparked conversations about home security and capital punishment. In vetoing the measure to eliminate the death penalty in 2009, Rell cited the Cheshire deaths.
Recent polling also indicates that a larger majority of Connecticut men oppose a repeal (66%), as opposed to 58% among the state's women.
In the last five years, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York and Illinois have repealed the death penalty. California voters will decide the issue in November.