Connecticut Abolishes the Death PenaltyApril 25, 2012

Connecticut Governor Dannel P. Malloy signed into law today a bill that repeals the death penalty, making his state the 17th state — the 5th in five years — to abolish capital punishment.

In a statement released after the signing, Governor Malloy said his experience as a prosecutor taught him "firsthand that our system of justice is very imperfect. While it’s a good system designed with the highest ideals of our democratic society in mind, like most of human experience, it is subject to the fallibility of those who participate in it."

The governor said, "I saw people who were poorly served by their counsel. I saw people wrongly accused or mistakenly identified. I saw discrimination. In bearing witness to those things, I came to believe that doing away with the death penalty was the only way to ensure it would not be unfairly imposed."

On April 5, the state senate in Connecticut approved the bill. Sen. Gayle Slossberg, D-Miford, a former supporter of the death penalty, remarked, "For me, the most compelling reason to reject the death penalty is to set ourselves on the path to the kind of society we really want for our future,'' she said. "I want something better for our future,'' Slossberg added. "We cannot confront darkness with darkness and expect light."

Before the vote, Sen. Eric Coleman, D-Bloomfield, who led the debate in favor of repeal, said, "Today is a dramatic and potentially historic day because the Senate has ... an opportunity to correct the arbitrariness, the discrimination, the random haphazard approach to the application of our death penalty in this state.''

The Connecticut House passed the repeal measure on April 11. Those in favor of the bill cited support from many families of murder victims and the fact that capital punishment has long been banned by nearly all of the world’s democracies. In a review of 34 years of Connecticut death penalty cases, Stanford Professor John Donohue concluded that “arbitrariness and discrimination are defining features of the state’s capital punishment regime.”

House majority leader Brendan Sharkey said the death penalty did more harm than good. “I believe that we, as human beings, should not create laws that reciprocate the evil perpetrated against society,” Mr. Sharkey said. “Those laws don’t protect us.”

Connecticut has carried out only one execution since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976. In 2005, Michael Ross abandoned his appeals and volunteered for execution.

Illinois, New Jersey, and New Mexico recently abolished the death penalty because of similar concerns about its flawed administration and lack of reliability. New York’s statute was ruled unconstitutional by the state’s highest court in 2004, and lawmakers have not moved to fix the law.