Connecticut Legislature Votes to Abolish the Death Penalty

Connecticut’s Senate gave final legislative approval to a bill that would abolish the death penalty in an early morning vote on May 22. After a nearly 11-hour debate, the Senate voted 19-17 to end capital punishment, eight days after the House of Representatives approved the bill 90-56. The bill will now go to Gov. M. Jodi Rell’s desk. When asked the day before its passage if she would veto the bill, Rell said, “I haven’t seen it, but you know how I feel about the death penalty. I’ve always believed that there are some crimes that are so heinous that it deserves the death penalty.” State Senate President Pro Tempore Donald Williams expressed his hopes that the governor would sign the bill, given the turn of events in the legislature, “History has been made in the state legislature,” Williams said. “We have seen a sea change in the state House of Representatives and the state Senate, and I think it reflects something that’s going on across the country. … I think it’s very important that we stress that what we’re talking about now is a very certain sentence of life in prison, without the chance of parole. … I would hope the governor would reflect upon the evidence.”

A fellow supporter of the death penalty, Senator Edith Prague, voted for the bill after hearing about cases where innocent people spent years in prison. Speaking of one such case, Prague said, “I know that the mistake made with [James] Tillman is horrendous. My sense is that the justice system makes mistakes.” One of the bill’s chief proponents, Senator Andrew McDonald, pointed out the lack of deterrence from the death penalty. He pointed to what he called the “death penalty mills” of Texas and Louisiana, where murder rates are two to four times that of Connecticut’s.

(J. Lender, D. Altimari, “Death penalty abolition gets final legislative approval in senate,” The Hartford Courant, May 22, 2009). See Recent Legislative Activity. In recent years, New York, New Jersey, and New Mexico have abandoned the death penalty. Other states such as Maryland, Montana, Colorado and New Hampshire came close to taking such action this year.