Connecticut’s Death Penalty Is Reserved For The Worst Of The Worst

June 24, 2009

Whether or not we should have a death penalty will always be a hot button issue in Connecticut – and it should be.

Authorizing state government to execute even the worst of the worst criminals is something that should be periodically revisited by the General Assembly. The death penalty is not something that can be decided “once and for all.” It is, after all, an issue of conscience and, over time, people can change their views.

As everyone knows by now, the General Assembly this year voted to abolish our death penalty law – and Governor M. Jodi Rell responded by vetoing the bill.

It is important for you to know that I believe Connecticut should have a death penalty law that is applied fairly and rarely. Nevertheless, as a relatively new state senator, I was extremely interested in learning more about the thinking of those who feel otherwise. In the end, I remained convinced that some crimes are so heinous, so depraved and so cruel that they merit legal execution by the state. However, I came away from our legislative debate with a deep respect for those who want to end capital punishment in Connecticut.

I think we all understand that the death penalty debate is not over; it will continue to be topic of discussion around Connecticut’s dinner tables and, perhaps again at some point in the future, in the General Assembly. At the moment though, it seems that public opinion is on the side of those who want to preserve the state’s death penalty.

Quickly following the General Assembly’s vote to abolish the death penalty, a majority of Connecticut voters who participated in a Quinnipiac University poll agreed with those of us who believe that capital punishment is warranted in certain, well-defined, and limited circumstances. Of the 1,575 registered voters surveyed, 61 percent said we should keep the death penalty, and 34 percent said we should replace it with life imprisonment without possibility of parole.

Of course, it is a terrible thing to take a human life, and the decision to do so is never lightly made under our system of justice in Connecticut. There have been a great many terrible murders committed here over the past several decades, yet only two people have been executed in Connecticut in the past 49 years: Joseph “Mad Dog” Taborsky in 1960, and Michael Ross in 2005. Today, there are many people convicted of taking lives incarcerated in our prisons, but only 10 of them are on death row, and they got there by committing truly heinous crimes for which they were tried and convicted. All of them have the right to appeal their sentences, and none will be executed until they have exhausted the many legal remedies available to them.

I was impressed by the message Governor Rell wrote to explain her veto of House Bill 6578, An Act Concerning The Penalty For A Capitol Felony. In part, she wrote: “As I have stated previously, I understand and sympathize with the anguish and pain of those families who have lost a loved one due to a cruel and heinous crime. These are the crimes forever embedded in our minds, haunting us long after they have been committed. They cause us to lose our innocence relative to the world around us. The death penalty is, and ought to be, reserved for those who have committed crimes that are revolting to our humanity and civilized society. The death penalty sends a clear message to those who may contemplate such cold, calculated crimes. We will not tolerate those who have murdered in the most vile, dehumanizing fashion. We should not, will not, abide those who have killed for the sake of killing; to those who have taken a precious life and shattered the lives of many more.”

As always, I want to know what you think about this issue, and others important to our state. I can be reached at my legislative office in Hartford at 1-800-842-1421, or via e-mail to [email protected].