Death penalty repeal passes state committee

The Connecticut State Capitol building in Hartford.
The Connecticut State Capitol building in Hartford. Photo by Wikimedia Commons.

A Wednesday vote by the Connecticut Legislature’s Judiciary Committee may have signaled the beginning of the end for Connecticut’s death penalty.

If the bill becomes law, life imprisonment without the possibility of parole will replace the death penalty in all future capital felony convictions. Following a 13-hour public hearing on March 13, the committee approved the bill Wednesday by a vote of 24-19, with 22 Democrats and two Republicans voting in favor of repeal. Proponents said they believe the bill can pass both chambers of the General Assembly, and Gov. Dannel Malloy has said he will sign it if given the opportunity.

“We are working very consciously to secure the votes,” said state Senate majority leader Martin Looney, a Democrat who represents New Haven and a co-sponsor of the bill. He added that a few key senators remain on the fence. “We are hopeful that the votes will be there to pass the bill.”

In order to pass the Senate and move to the House, the bill will require the support of at least half of the Senate’s 36 members. If the Senate vote is tied, Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman has said she would cast a tie-breaking vote in support of repeal.

The bill has not yet been placed on the Senate’s legislative calendar, but Rep. Gary Holder-Winfield, vice-chair of the Judiciary Committee and a Democrat representing New Haven, said he expects the bill to move quickly due to the historic nature of the bill.

This is the third time since 2009 that Connecticut lawmakers have considered a bill to abolish the death penalty.

A repeal bill passed both houses of the General Assembly in 2009, but was vetoed by former Republican Gov. Jodi Rell. A similar version of the bill passed the Judiciary Committee in 2011, but did not go to the floor for a vote because two Democratic legislators pulled their support for the bill, citing the then-ongoing trial of the infamous home invasion and triple homicide in Cheshire, Conn., that left William Petit without his wife and two daughters.

While much of the citizen testimony presented at the March 13 public hearing was in favor of death penalty repeal, a Quinnipiac University poll released on Wednesday revealed that Connecticut voters largely support capital punishment. According to the poll, 62 percent of voters surveyed said abolishing the death penalty is a “bad idea.”

“The [public] response to the death penalty often depends on how the question is posed in the poll,” Looney said, adding that previous polls have shown greater support for repeal when respondents are given the option to replace the death penalty with life imprisonment, instead of the question of whether the death penalty should be legal.

A Quinnipiac poll released last October found that when given the option between the death penalty and life without parole, only 46 percent continued to support capital punishment.

Opponents of the bill have expressed concern that the change would convert the sentences of the 11 prisoners currently on death row in Connecticut to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. Connecticut’s chief public defender, Susan Storey, who submitted testimony to the public hearing in support of the bill, has said she will file appeals on behalf of death row inmates to convert their sentences to life imprisonment if the bill passes.

But the bill is “prospective,” Looney said, explaining that the wording of the bill does not directly affect the sentences of the 11 inmates. “However, it is to be expected that defense attorneys would seek to challenge the existing sentences,” he added.

There is national precedent for upholding death sentences issued prior to the repeal of a state’s death penalty. After New Mexico legislators abolished the death penalty for all future crimes in 2009, a death row inmate unsuccessfully appealed his sentence.

If the death penalty bill is signed into law, 58 percent of Connecticut voters believe the 11 men currently on death row should be executed, according to the most recent Quinnipiac poll.

More than 65 people submitted testimony to the March 13 public hearing, including a number of Yale students who have been lobbying to garner support for repeal.

“Repeal [of the death penalty] is one of our top legislative priorities this semester and we have had members working on new advocacy projects on the issue each week,” said Zak Newman ’13, president of the Yale College Democrats.

Newman added that this semester the Dems canvassed for the bill in Dixwell, sent approximately 400 letters to Malloy’s office and attended a rally organized by the advocacy group Connecticut Network to Abolish the Death Penalty.

In addition to the Dems, members of the Yale chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, the Yale University Amnesty International Chapter and the Black Student Alliance at Yale also submitted testimony to the March 13 public hearing in support of the bill. No student groups submitted testimony opposing the bill.

Connecticut has executed one person since the Supreme Court overturned the federal suspension of the death penalty in 1976.

Comments

  • dudleysharp

    CT DEATH PENALTY SUPPORT AVERAGES 82% SINCE 2000, YEARS BEFORE THE PETIT MURDERS

    An overwhelming 5:1 of Ct citizens support the death penalty (82%) vs opposing the death penalty (16%) , as has consistently been the been the case from 2000-2011, as per number 43, TREND (1).

    This represents a remarkably consistent average since 2000, inclusive of minimum support at 79% and the maximum at 85%, during that period. showing only a 3% variance from that 82% average during those 11 years of polling.

    This consistent, strong voice could hardly be more clear.

    Most recently, in 2011, the poll finds 83% support for the death penalty, which is the combination of the death penalty support for all murderers (10%) and death penalty support “depends on the circumstances of the case” (73%), with only 16% opposing the death penalty in all circumstances, as per question and answer number 43, from the March 10, 2011 Quinnapiac Poll (1).

    1) March 10, 2011 – Death Penalty Support At New High In Connecticut, Quinnapiac University Poll Finds; Voters High On Medical Marijuana, Sunday Liquor Sales
    http://www.quinnipiac.edu/institutes-and-centers/polling-institute/connecticut/release-detail?ReleaseID=1566

  • dudleysharp

    Looney is mistaken.

    Quinnipiac Polling Errors: Life Without Parole vs the Death Penalty
    Dudley Sharp

    There are two problems with the Quinnipiac poll with regard to LWOP vs the death penalty.

    Let’s look at the question:

    “42. Which punishment do you prefer for people convicted of murder, the death penalty or life in prison with no chance of parole?” (1)

    and the response:

    48% prefer the death penalty, 43% prefer Life without parole.

    First, the question has a problem. **Strong**

    There is no such sanction as life in prison “with no chance of parole.” All sanctions can be changed by legislative action, in addition to the executive branch having the ability to pardon or parole any inmate, regardless of sentence. This QUESTION error, obviously, may skew the results of the poll, by implying a benefit to a life sentence which does not exist.

    The obvious example of this is the death penalty repeal bill, which is also causing some to speculate that those on death row may be spared that sanction.

    Secondly, this is a PREFERENCE poll, not an EXCLUSION poll.*Emphasis*

    Some, wrongly state, that this poll reflects lower support for the death penalty. Untrue. It does reflect low support (43%) for LWOP, either.

    The 48% who prefer the death penalty are not rejecting a life sentence and the 43% who prefer a life sentence are not rejecting a death sentence.

    I use this clear example.

    Which do you prefer, vanilla or chocolate ice cream?

    48% prefer vanilla, 43% prefer chocolate, 100% want to retain both vanilla and chocolate ice cream, with 9% having no preference of one over the other.

    Just as 48% prefer the death penalty and 43% prefer a life sentence, with 83% wanting to retain both sanctions (2), with only 16% rejecting the death penalty in all cases (1). 1% can’t make up their mind.

    1) March 10, 2011 – Death Penalty Support At New High In Connecticut, Quinnapiac University Poll Finds; Voters High On Medical Marijuana, Sunday Liquor Sales
    http://www.quinnipiac.edu/institutes-and-centers/polling-institute/connecticut/release-detail?ReleaseID=1566

    2) As 83% in Ct support the death penalty, it is likely those 83% also support LWOP, as well. In other words, 83% in Ct support the system that Ct has now, the option of selecting either the death penalty or LWOP, in death penalty eligible trials.

    *Emphasis***Strong**

  • jamesdakrn

    Keep the death penalty. Just use it less frequently.

  • redman

    An inconvenient fact that the author over looked is there has only been 1 execution in the last 50 years in Connecticut, and he was white man.

  • DocHollidaye

    Quoting from a paper written by Roy Weatherford, “Those of us who were raised in the Judeo-Christian morally tradition that is significantly based on the Ten Commandments often were initially perplexed to see that our respected elders permitted or even engaged in various kinds of killing despite the clear Biblical injunction “Thou shalt not kill.” If we ventured to ask about this, we generally were told something like “The Hebrew word translated as ‘kill’ in the King James Version of the Bible really meant something more like ‘murder’; hence God did not forbid all kinds of killing, only murderous killing. It is alright to kill in self-defense or in a just war, for example.”

    I do not know if this is good theology, or even if it is good translation, but I believe it is sound moral reasoning. I believe that deadly force is justifiable in self-defense broadly construed and in just war construed a bit more narrowly than our ancestors were inclined to practice it. I deny, however, that capital punishment is a similarly justifiable form of killing.”

    MY TAKE ON THINGS: Yes this is correct, although I do find it difficult to stand behind the death penalty because I myself would not want to pull the lever or give the injection unless I had witnessed it for myself. For self-defense yes there are times when killing is most necessary. However, every possible means should be taken not to be put in situations that would call for such acts.

    Quoting Weatherford:

    Killing in a just war

    As a Lieutenant in the US Army, I was taught by my country that it was permissible, indeed it was obligatory, for me to bring about the death of enemy soldiers who opposed our forces. (The killing of civilians is less easily justified, so I set that issue aside for the sake of clarity.) In the Infantry Officers Basic Course at Fort Benning, Georgia, I was told, for example, that if I were leading a platoon whose mission was to capture a bridge, I had the right to kill or capture any soldier who fired on my platoon or who posed any threat to it or its mission. But I was also taught that if I elected to capture an enemy soldier and had the means to return him or her safely to our base, I then gave up my right to kill. The U.S. Army specifically teaches that the killing of unarmed prisoners of war is murder and is both morally and legally forbidden.

    MY TAKE: I agree.

    Dudley gave some very interesting statistics. Overall this is a very difficult decision that most importantly must be spiritually negotiated by the people who give out death penalties and those who enact their executions.

  • dudleysharp

    Doc:

    Yes, the Commandment is based upon illicit killings or more simply, murders.

    “All interpretations, contrary to the biblical support of capital punishment, are false. Interpreters ought to listen to the Bible’s own agenda, rather than to squeeze from it implications for their own agenda. As the ancient rabbis taught, “Do not seek to be more righteous than your Creator.” (Ecclesiastes Rabbah 7.33.). Part of Synopsis of Professor Lloyd R. Bailey’s book Capital Punishment: What the Bible Says, Abingdon Press, 1987.

    Saint (& Pope) Pius V, “The just use of (executions), far from involving the crime of murder, is an act of paramount obedience to this (Fifth) Commandment which prohibits murder.” “The Roman Catechism of the Council of Trent” (1566).

    Pope Pius XII: “When it is a question of the execution of a man condemned to death it is then reserved to the public power to deprive the condemned of the benefit of life, in expiation of his fault, when already, by his fault, he has dispossessed himself of the right to live.” 9/14/52.

    “Moral/ethical Death Penalty Support: Christian and secular Scholars”
    http://prodpinnc.blogspot.com/2009/07/death-penalty-support-modern-catholic.html

    Christianity and the death penalty
    http://www.prodeathpenalty.com/DP.html#F.Christianity

    Catholic and other Christian References: Support for the Death Penalty,
    http://homicidesurvivors.com/2006/10/12/catholic-and-other-christian-references-support-for-the-death-penalty.aspx

    Quaker biblical scholar Dr. Gervas A. Carey: ” . . . the decree of Genesis 9:5-6 is equally enduring and cannot be separated from the other pledges and instructions of its immediate context, Genesis 8:20-9:17; . . . that is true unless specific Biblical authority can be cited for the deletion, of which there appears to be none. It seems strange that any opponents of capital punishment who professes to recognize the authority of the Bible either overlook or disregard the divine decree in this covenant with Noah; . . . capital punishment should be recognized . . . as the divinely instituted penalty for murder; The basis of this decree . . . is as enduring as God; . . . murder not only deprives a man of a portion of his earthly life . . . it is a further sin against him as a creature made in the image of God and against God Himself whose image the murderer does not respect.” “A Bible Study” (p. 111-113) Essays on the Death Penalty, T. Robert Ingram, ed., St. Thomas Press, Houston, 1963, 1992.

    God/Jesus: ‘Honor your father and your mother,’ and ‘Whoever curses father or mother must certainly be put to death.’ Matthew 15:4 full context (NAB) http://www.usccb.org/nab/bible/matthew/matthew15.htm