Conn. Senate votes to repeal death penalty bill
State senators voted 20-16 in favor of a death penalty repeal bill after about 11 hours of impassioned floor debate.
A push to abolish¬†Connecticut's¬†death¬†penalty¬†is one step closer to becoming a reality after clearing a key legislative hurdle in the state Senate early Thursday morning.
State senators voted 20-16 in favor of a¬†death¬†penalty¬†repeal bill after about 11 hours of impassioned floor debate.
Sen. Eric Coleman, D-Bloomfield, said he was not surprised by the bill's passage in the Senate. He said vote turned out exactly as he had expected.
"I think it is a pivotal step," he said. "It moves us towards a more enlightened posture on the issue and puts us more in line with other New England states."
The legislation would eliminate capital punishment for all future cases, but would not directly affect sentences of the 11 inmates currently on¬†Connecticut's¬†death¬†row. Many officials insisted on that as a condition of their support for repeal in a state where two men were recently sentenced to¬†death¬†in a brutal, highly publicized 2007 home invasion.
The repeal bill would replace the¬†death¬†penalty¬†for future cases with a sentence of life imprisonment without the possibility of release. Additionally, the bill renames the capital felony charge as, "murder with special circumstances." The charge would be reserved for individuals convicted of murdering two or more people at the same time, a person under age 16 or a person he or she has kidnapped, among other scenarios.
A Democratic amendment to the bill, which passed the Senate, would also require that inmates convicted under this new charge be subject to harsh prison conditions that mirror those which current¬†death¬†row prisoners face.
It would require separate inmate housing, allow only non-contact visitation and mandate cell movement every 90 days. The amendment also calls for weekly cell searches, continuous monitoring when outside of a cell and no work assignments outside of the housing unit.
"This is a severe and certain punishment. This does almost exactly mirror the conditions for those prisoners ondeath¬†row," Senate President Donald Williams Jr. said.
Despite proposing multiple bill amendments during the lengthy debate that ultimately failed to garner enough support, Senate Republicans found success in passing a bipartisan proposal that clarifies the repeal legislation is only to affect future cases.
Lawmakers were poised to take up¬†death¬†penalty¬†repeal legislation last year, but decided not to hold a vote in the Senate after some senators voiced concern about taking action when the second of two suspects in a 2007 deadly home invasion in Cheshire had yet to be convicted.
Now that both men have been sentenced to¬†death, some lawmakers who previously opposed the¬†penalty¬†have shifted their support.
Sen. Edith Prague, D-Columbia, who opposed the bill last year following the home invasion case'sdeath¬†penalty¬†phase, voted to support the repeal in the Senate.
"I cannot stand the thought of being responsible for somebody being falsely accused and facing thedeath¬†penalty," she said. "For me, this is a moral issue and realizing that mistakes are obviously made."
Opponents of the bill largely dismissed claims that the¬†death¬†penalty¬†is flawed and subject to mistakes. Instead, they predicted the repeal will be the basis for numerous legal appeals by lawyers for¬†death¬†row inmates.
During the Senate debate on the bill, opponents raised questions on the bill's constitutionality, particularly in the appeals process that is expected to occur for current¬†death¬†row inmates if the punishment is abolished.
"We've now crafted something for political purposes in order to carve out those 11 people so we can make it work," said Sen. Len Fasano, R-North Haven.
"What I do know is that the appeals won't stop. What I do know is that the legal process will continue and be lengthy even after the¬†death¬†penalty¬†is repealed, it will just be different arguments made in the appeal," he said.
Connecticut¬†has carried out only one execution in 51 years, when serial killer Michael Ross was administered lethal injection in 2005.
In the last five years, four states have repealed the¬†death¬†penalty¬†‚ÄĒ New Mexico, Illinois, New Jersey and New York. Currently, 16 states and the District of Columbia do not have a¬†death¬†penalty.
Executions nationwide have decreased steadily since they hit an all-time high of 98 executions in 1999 and have averaged at 44 a year since 2007, according to the¬†Death¬†Penalty¬†Information Center.