Connecticut Keeps Capital Punishment, for Now
By John Gramlich, Staff Writer
The Connecticut General Assembly probably won't repeal capital punishment this year, even though many observers considered it a near certainty until just a few days ago. The turning point came when a pair of state senators — both of whom initially backed the repeal effort and were crucial to its success — suddenly announced that they were withdrawing their support.
The lawmakers' change of heart was the result of a personal lobbying effort by William Petit, the lone survivor of a 2007 home invasion that left his wife and two daughters dead. The brutal crime rocked Connecticut, led to an overhaul of some of the state's criminal justice policies and has remained in local and national headlines as the two state parolees allegedly responsible for it have undergone prosecution. One of the men, Steven Hayes, was found guilty and sentenced to death last year, while the other, Joshua Komisarjevsky, is awaiting trial.
Petit visited the two state senators with a simple request: withdraw your support for the death penalty repeal until after Komisarjevsky's trial has concluded, giving jurors the option of sentencing him to death if he is found guilty. The emotional plea won over Democratic state senators Andrew Maynard and Edith Prague, apparently ending the legislation's chances of passing this year, even though it had already cleared the state House of Representatives and won the support of Governor Dannel Malloy.
"I just wanted to do a little something to help (Petit)," Prague told The Connecticut Mirror . "I can't vote for it this session. I can't do it."
Prior to the two senators' switch, death penalty opponents were hailing Connecticut as the next in a series of states to move away from capital punishment. Illinois abolished the death penalty earlier this year, while New Mexico and New Jersey did so in 2009 and 2007, respectively.
"Coupled with the dramatic plunge in death sentences and executions over the last several years, Connecticut's repeal of capital punishment will represent a strong statement that the death penalty is dying in America," the Death Penalty Information Center said in a press release, underscoring the confidence of many opponents of capital punishment in Connecticut.
Despite the last-minute developments, there is a strong possibility that Connecticut will repeal the death penalty next year. Opponents of capital punishment will retain their majorities in both legislative chambers, and Prague said she would support the effort once Komisarjevsky's trial and sentencing are over.