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Connecticut becomes 17th state to repeal death penalty

April 12, 2012|By Tina Susman
(Jessica Hill/Associated…)

Connecticut has become the 17th state to repeal the death penalty, with lawmakers voting 86-62 on the measure after a marathon debate that stretched into the night and revived memories of some of the state's most heinous crimes.

Gov. Dannel Malloy has said he will sign the bill, which passed the House on Wednesday night, six days after the Senate approved it. The bill replaces capital punishment with life in prison without the possibility of parole, but it only applies to future cases and has no effect on the 11 men on death row in Connecticut.

They include two men convicted and sentenced to death for the 2007 murders of a woman and her two daughters in Cheshire, Conn., a case that made national headlines and finally ended in January when the second defendant was sentenced to die. Even though neither defendant -- Steven Hayes nor Joshua Komisarjevsky -- has a chance to be freed because of the repeal, it did not stop lawmakers who favor capital punishment from invoking their names during the heated debate, according to the Hartford Courant.

"The perpetrators of these types of heinous crimes have made their decision,'' said Rep. Russ Morin, a Democrat who joined most Republicans in opposing the repeal. "The decisions they've made must have these consequences."

Supporters of repeal, who fended off more than a dozen efforts to amend the bill, noted that Connecticut has carried out only one execution since 1960 -- that of serial killer Michael Bruce Ross, who was put to death in 2005 by lethal injection. He confessed to eight murders of young women and spent 18 years on death row before his execution. 

Some of those who backed the repeal also said that sometimes, people serving time in prison or on death row are exonerated years later because of new evidence. "The government does make mistakes, please remember that," said Rep. Mary Mushinsky, who cited the case of Kenneth Ireland. Ireland was freed from a Connecticut prison in August 2009 after more than 20 years on death row for a rape and murder he did not commit.

Malloy praised the vote, which came at 10:57 p.m., saying it would let the state "throw away the key" and put away the worst criminals for life. "For decades we have not had a workable death penalty,'' Malloy said in a statement. "Going forward, we will have a system that allows us to put these people away for life, in living conditions none of us would want to experience."

With Malloy's signature, Connecticut will be the fifth state in five years to repeal the death penalty, something opponents of capital punishment hope will fuel a nationwide trend. 

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tina.susman@latimes.com  

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