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Contact: Adam Joseph

April 5, 2012

Senate Approves Death Penalty Repeal, Tougher Conditions for Life in Prison

Connecticut poised to become 17th state to cease condemning prisoners to death

In an historic vote following many hours of debate, the State Senate voted 20-16 early this morning to cease condemning prisoners to death in the State of Connecticut. Senate Democratic leaders said the vote constitutes an enormous step forward in promoting fairness and decency in the criminal justice system.

The House of Representatives is expected to approve the same legislation within weeks, and Governor Dannel P. Malloy has said he will sign it.

“Connecticut’s criminal justice system has taken a historic step forward. In a system of justice that is not perfect, we must not employ a penalty that requires perfection. The punishment of life in prison without the possibility of release makes more sense,” said Senate President Donald E. Williams, Jr. (D-Brooklyn). “These inmates will face conditions that are similar to and in some cases more severe than conditions on death row. It is a punishment and sentence that is certain and final.”

“The reality is the death penalty cannot be applied in a fair and impartial manner and there can be no guarantee against error,” said Senate Majority Leader Martin M. Looney (D-New Haven). No fallible human system should have the power to take a life. Our system is subject to both good faith error and deliberate perversions of justice. In this bill we have created tough, new conditions for life in prison without the possibility of release.”

“Justice is and must be the fundamental consideration in how our society prosecutes and sentences criminals. By that standard, the death penalty has routinely failed to measure up. A just punishment must be applied indiscriminately, blind to racial and economic differences. We have seen that is not the case. It is also an irreversible sentence, which leaves no room for error, yet errors abound. More than 130 individuals on death row have been exonerated over the last forty years,” said Senator Eric D. Coleman (D-Bloomfield), Senate Chair of the Judiciary Committee and a longtime opponent of the death penalty.

In a review of 34 years of Connecticut death penalty cases, Professor John Donohue of the Stanford Law School found that, “arbitrariness and discrimination are defining features of the state’s capital punishment regime.”

Senator Coleman continued, “The United States was the only Western democracy to execute one if its prisoners in 2011. It is a punishment at odds with our highest values. The death penalty is also not a deterrent to crime. The 16 states of the union that do not issue the death penalty have an average homicide rate 25 percent lower than those that do. Connecticut would do well to become the seventeenth state.”

Daryl K. Roberts, Retired Hartford Chief of Police said, “I can say based on over thirty years of dealing with the most hardened and calculated offenders: the death penalty is not a deterrent. Having the death penalty or not will have no effect on these individuals because they do not expect to get caught. Many are mentally ill, or acting in a moment of passion, or are sociopaths with delusions of grandeur and never expect to be caught. The death penalty is the farthest thing from their minds.”

In recent months, many family members of murder victims have reached out to the legislature to express their support for repeal of the death penalty.

“So many times I hear people arguing for the death penalty say, ‘What if it happened in your family?’ like the answer would be obvious. Well, it did happen in my family. And I’m here to tell you I don’t want the death penalty,” said Catherine Ednie of Stamford, sister to a murder victim, in testimony before the Judiciary Committee last month.

Senate Bill 280 would replace the death penalty with a sentence of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole for capital offenses committed on or after the effective date of the act. It also establishes tough new conditions for individuals convicted of the worst offenses, formerly capital crimes, to be known as “murder with special circumstances.” Such convicts would be:

  • Assigned a permanent Special Circumstances High Security Status
  • Housed in a separate housing unit from other inmates
  • Limited in time spent outside the prison cell (2 hours out, 22 hours in)
  • Subject to at least two cell searches per week, and moved to a new cell every 90 days
  • Permitted no work assignments outside of their housing unit
  • Allowed non-contact visitation only
  • Placed in administrative segregation or protective custody as required

Senator Coleman concluded, “The death penalty is an issue of great conscience, and for years now, many people have argued passionately on both sides of the issue. I thank all for their input. I believe that with tonight’s vote, we have moved very close to a more just policy of criminal sentencing in the State of Connecticut.”


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