Sen. Kissel: “The death penalty performs a valuable function in our criminal justice system.” [Post-Chronicle]

February 29, 2012

Rally in Hartford urges repeal of Connecticut death penalty

Published: Wednesday, February 29, 2012
By Jordan Fenster, New Haven Register

HARTFORD -— In early 2011, Brian Patterson was killed in Virginia.

A little more than a year later, Patterson’s cousin, Khalilah Brown-Dean came forward to protest the death penalty in Connecticut.

Brown-Dean was one of six speakers, all of them family members of slaying victims, who took part in a press conference and rally Wednesday to end the death penalty. Those six speakers are among 179 family members of slaying victims who signed a letter to legislators arguing against capital punishment.

“There is simply no justice in taking the life of another,” Brown-Dean said.

All of the speakers at Wednesday’s rally had tragic stories to tell. Torrington’s Elizabeth Brancato’s mother was killed in 1979. In New Haven, Victoria Coward’s 18-year-old son was killed in 2007. The brother of Stamford’s Catherine Ednie was killed in 1995.

Many of the speakers choked back tears as they recounted their losses, but all agree that the state’s death penalty should be repealed.

Calling the state’s application of the death penalty “arbitrary and capricious,” Ednie called the idea that only the “worst of the worst” criminals get put on death row, “insulting.

“It divides murders into two classes, the worst and the not-so-bad,” she said.

Coward spoke about the death penalty’s increasing cost to the state, citing numbers that range from $4 to $7 million annually, a sentiment that was echoed by many of Wednesday’s speakers.

“The death penalty creates a painful illusion that some cases are worthier than others,” she said. “It robs us desperately of needed resources and keeps the spotlight on the offender.”

Though he understands that “there are some extremely heartfelt feelings out there,” state Sen. John Kissel, R-Enfield, a member of the legislature’s Judiciary Committee, said the idea that capital punishment creates an unfair class system of murders is a “preposterous argument.”

“Because the person who killed my loved one does not face the death penalty, then no one should face the death penalty?” he said. “That makes no sense.”

Though there has been no exact determination as to the cost of prosecuting a capital crime versus the cost of seeking a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole, there are many costs involved in what is a lengthy process.

“There are several problems involved in trying to determine the cost of a capital case,” according to a report issued by the state’s Office of Legislative Research in 2000. “First, there is a wide variety of costs associated with capital cases. These include costs for prosecuting and defense attorneys, interpreters, expert witnesses, court reporters, psychiatrists, secretaries, and jury consultants.”

This is not, by far, the first time Connecticut legislators will argue for and against capital punishment. Last year, the issue was stalled in the Senate — two years ago a bill made it all the way to Gov. M. Jodi Rell’s desk, where it died.

Though Republicans are gearing up for a battle, Senate Minority Leader John McKinney, R-Fairfield, said recently that he expects repeal to “squeak” through the Senate. That estimation may have been altered by state Sen. Andrew Roraback, R-Goshen, a long-time supporter of repeal and current Congressional candidate in the 5th district, who said last week he would not vote against the death penalty unless a different law, one allowing for inmate sentence reductions also is repealed.

Kissel said “the death penalty performs a valuable function in our criminal justice system,” though Wednesday’s anti-capital punishment advocates argued on both practical and ethical grounds that the death penalty serves little purpose.

Deacon Arthur Miller, of the Archdiocese of Hartford, spoke about his cousin, who was killed by an undocumented immigrant fleeing police. “His death is one of those not-so-bad deaths,” he said.

“I’d rather not have revenge,” he said. “The death penalty is not what I fought for in Vietnam.”