Some state lawmakers are reviving a push to end Connecticut's death penalty,
hoping for an easier road this year following the conclusion of two widely
publicized trials for a brutal 2007 triple slaying.
While the only survivor of the Cheshire home invasion personally lobbied
legislators last year to keep the death penalty, at least one state senator who
was swayed by Dr. William Petit says he is now ready to vote for repeal.
"Last year was not an appropriate time to discuss (repeal)," said Sen. Andrew
Maynard, a Stonington Democrat.
Petit's influence helped to doom last year's bid to repeal the death penalty,
which never made it to the Senate floor for a vote. Since then, a man described
as the crime's mastermind has been condemned to join his co-defendant on death
row, closing the case on the attack in which Petit's wife and two daughters
State Rep. Gary Holder-Winfield, a New Haven Democrat and a leading death
penalty opponent, said he is working with state legislators to win their
support. He said members of the joint judiciary committee plan to propose
legislation sometime before a Feb. 22 deadline to introduce new bills. He said
he is dedicated to working with state senators to win their support.
Death penalty opponents say there is already enough support for repeal in the
House of Representatives.
Columbia Sen. Edith Prague, another key Democrat who shifted her position after
meeting with Petit, said she has not decided whether to support a repeal effort
this session. She said she may support abolishing capital punishment if current
death row inmates could be subject to life in prison with solitary confinement,
but needs to look further into whether or not that would be legal.
"There's still a lot of support for the death penalty in this state," she said.
"I'm not sure what will happen this session."
Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, who was elected in 2010, said he would sign
prospective repeal legislation into law that abolishes capital punishment for
all future cases and does not directly affect sentences of current death row
inmates. He is the 1st governor in decades to oppose the death penalty. The
legislature had voted to repeal it in 2009, but then-Gov. M. Jodi Rell, a
Republican, vetoed the bill, saying she believed the death penalty was
appropriate for particularly heinous crimes, such as the Cheshire home
Petit's wife was raped and strangled. His daughters were tied to their beds
with gasoline poured on or around them before their house was set on fire.
Petit was beaten with a baseball bat and tied up, but managed to escape to a
neighbor's house to get help.
In December, Joshua Komisarjevsky was convicted and sentenced to death for the
crime, joining his accomplice, Steven Hayes, on death row. Currently, the state
has 11 inmates awaiting execution.
Rick Healey, a friend of Petit who has served as his spokesman, said he does
not expect Petit to comment on the latest efforts to repeal the death penalty.
A Quinnipiac University poll in March 2011 found 67 % of registered voters
favor the death penalty, a new high for the state.
Connecticut has carried out only one execution in 51 years, when serial killer
Michael Ross was administered lethal injection in 2005. Some inmates have been
on death row for decades as they appeal their sentences.
Sen. Michael McLachlan, R-Danbury, said he opposes repeal, and listening to
Petit's testimony in favor of the death penalty was enough to solidify his
position. He said prospects for repeal legislation are unclear.
"It's apparent this governor would sign the bill if it went to his desk, so I'm
not sure what is going to happen," he said.
While the governor supports only legislation affecting future cases, skeptics
including Prague have raised concerns that the Cheshire home invasion killers
could use a repeal as the basis for an appeal and possibly avoid facing capital
Some death penalty opponents continue to campaign for an all-out abolition.
Activists from the Connecticut Network to Abolish the Death Penalty began
lobbying efforts on opening day of the legislative session. Ben Jones, the
organization's executive director, said high energy among the African-American
community and families of murder victims could help repeal the death penalty in
Scot Esdaile, president of the state's branch of the National Association for
the Advancement of Colored People, said the organization has been meeting with
lawmakers on the issue.
Esdaile said the Connecticut NAACP plans to employ grass-roots efforts to
spread awareness of how capital punishment affects the African-American
community. "We have a large investment (in this issue,)" he said.
(source: Associated Press)