State Sen. Andrew Roraback, a longtime opponent of the death penalty, said
Friday he would not back a repeal bill unless lawmakers also reverse a series
of changes to the state's criminal justice policy.
Roraback's vote is considered key if capital punishment is to be abolished in
Connecticut this year.
The legislature's judiciary committee announced earlier this week that it
intends to raise the issue this session.
In past years, a repeal bill has passed the House by a wide margin but vote
counts in the Senate have been much closer.
Roraback, a Republican from Goshen, is running for Congress in the 5th District
and has been hammered by opponent Lisa Wilson-Foley for his opposition to
capital punishment. Wilson-Foley began running radio ads this week attacking
"the liberal politicians and special interests in Hartford trying to eliminate
the death penalty" and urging listeners to call Roraback's office.
"Nothing has changed with respect to my thinking on the death penalty,''
Roraback said. "I don't believe the state should be in the business of
extinguishing life but I also this year want to make sure the state isn't in
the business of breaking its promises.
"Last year we passed an early-release bill that was a breach of faith with
victims of crime ... and their families because it is breaking a promise that
was made at the time of sentencing,'' Roraback added.
He is referring to a bill approved during the 2011 legislative session that
establishes an early-release program for prisoners, including some who were
convicted of violent offenses such as rape and arson. Roraback and other
members of the Republican caucus who oppose the bill called it bad public
Under the policy, inmates may earn up to five days a month off of their
sentence for good behavior and participation in programs that aim to reduce
recidivism. The credits can be revoked if prisoners misbehave or fail to comply
with the program.
Michael P. Lawlor, Gov.Dannel P. Malloy's undersecretary for criminal justice
issues and the architect of the new policy, said it cannot be repealed
But Roraback said he intends to offer an amendment to a death penalty repeal
bill that would also repeal the early-release credits.
"We have an opportunity to, in connection with the death penalty vote, to
restore integrity to our sentencing system,'' he said. "I will vote to repeal
the death penalty if this provision is included, Otherwise, I will not.''
Roraback said his congressional aspirations and Wilson-Foley's criticism have
nothing to do with his desire to link his vote on the death penalty with his
drive to repeal the criminal policy changes.
"I'm running for Congress, she's running for Congress, and the issues important
to that campaign are the national deficit, an economy on the ropes, national
security, and energy Independence,'' he said. "I have been, and will continue
to be, a vocal opponent of the early release program. I'm going to use my
position as a state senator to try and undo that ill-advised initiative."
The repeal bill's fate in the Senate has always been tumultuous. In 2009, it
passed the chamber after several longtime opponents, among them Democratic
Sens. Gary LeBeau and Edith Prague, changed their vote. But the measure was
vetoed by Gov.M. Jodi Rell.
In 2011, death penalty opponents thought they would prevail, thanks to the
election of Malloy, a capital punishment foe. But the issue never came up for a
vote after Prague and Sen. Andrew Maynard announced their opposition to the
repeal bill. Both lawmakers cited the brutal home invasion in Cheshire and the
quiet persuasion Dr. William Petit, the sole survivor, as reasons for their
reversal. The trial Joshua Komisarjevsky, 1 of the 2 men charged in the Petit
killings, was playing out last spring, when lawmakers were pondering the bill.
He has since been convicted and sentenced to death, as has Steven Hayes, who
was also charged in the case.
Maynard's aide said Friday he will likely support the repeal; his main
objection last year was the timing of the debate as Komisarjevsky was on trial.
Prague could not be reached for comment, but earlier this month The Day of New
London reported that she said she was wrestling with the issue.
Ben Jones, executive director of the Connecticut Network to Abolish the Death
Penalty, said he hopes the issue does not become entwined in election-year
"This has been an issue that has received bipartisan support and I'm hoping it
doesn't become a partisan bill this year,'' he said.
"When it's election time, sometimes people like to take cheap shots on this
issue..it's unfortunate when the debate goes in that direction because this is
a serious public policy issue."
Jones said he has always had a lot of respect for Roraback, who bucked many in
his caucus to support the repeal effort.
Added Lawlor, "all I know about Andrew Roraback is that he's arguably the most
principled legislator here, Democrat or Republican ... he's a man of principle
and he votes his conscience more than anyone else I know."
(source: Hartford Courant)