Sen. Kissel Warns of Lengthy Filibuster on Move to Repeal Death Penalty

March 6, 2012

Article as it appeared in the Journal Inquirer

By Ed Jacovino
Journal Inquirer
Published: Tuesday, March 6, 2012

HARTFORD — Even as state lawmakers debate whether to abolish the death penalty, prison guards have been training for an execution.

Correction Commissioner Leo C. Arnone said the training began after he heard that a Death Row inmate might waive his appeals. So he asked Correction Department officials what they would do if they had to execute one of the state’s 11 Death Row inmates. They told him they didn’t know, he said.

The state’s last execution occurred seven years ago in 2005, when serial killer Michael Ross waived his appeals and was put to death by lethal injection.

Only two members of the team involved in that execution still are working for the state, Arnone said.
It’s unclear whether any Correction Department employees continued training for executions after the Ross execution.

Death Row is at Northern Correctional Institution in Somers. The execution chambers are at the adjacent Osborn Correctional Institution.

Arnone said he’s looking to federal guidelines and studying execution practices in other states. At least one state employee traveled to Texas last year to witness an execution there. Texas employs a similar method to Connecticut’s lethal injection, Arnone said.

Correction Department spokesman Brian Garnett said Monday that the training is part of keeping up with state rules.

“The department has an obligation to ensure that we maintain a high level of proficiency in our ability to carry out the law, and that is what we’re in the process of doing,” he said.

Garnett declined to say how many employees traveled to Texas, how much the trip cost, or whether any other money has been spent on training. He also wouldn’t say how many employees were involved and whether the state had spent any money on other materials as a result of the training.

The training started almost a year ago, Garnett said.

The training comes as lawmakers debate repealing the death penalty for future crimes — a measure critics say would halt all executions in the state. Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, a Democrat, has said he would sign such a bill.

The measure failed to clear the Senate last year after Dr. William A. Petit Jr., the only survivor of the Cheshire home invasion in which his wife and two daughters were murdered, met with lawmakers to persuade them not to abolish the death penalty.

Should the measure come before the Senate this year, it’s expected to be another close vote. Meanwhile, supporters and opponents of repealing the death penalty said the training is in keeping with the law .

Rep. Gary A. Holder-Winfield, D-New Haven, has led in the effort to repeal the death penalty. “I don’t think we’re going to execute anyone, but the current law is that we do execute,” he said.

Sen. John A. Kissel, R-Enfield, opposes repealing the death penalty. His district includes Death Row and the execution chambers. “I would guess that they have to be ready for that at all times,” he said.

Kissel said that some Death Row inmates could be nearing the end of their appeals. Some have been there for more than 20 years, and little has happened in their appeals in the last five years, he said.

He acknowledged the state Senate could have enough votes to repeal the death penalty for future crimes — historically, the measure has had the votes to clear the House of Representatives but not the Senate.

But Kissel warned that he and other Republicans could filibuster to block the move, saying the debate could take as long as two days.

“We have a great caucus,” he said. “I think the vast majority of my colleagues on the Republican side feel very strongly on this.”

Kissel also has argued that even if the law limits repealing the death penalty to future crimes, it could end executions altogether.

That’s because a judge could decide the death penalty is a “cruel and unusual punishment,” he said, based on “evolving society standards.”

“They will look at the law, even though it is prospective, and use it to show that the societal standards of Connecticut have changed,” Kissel said.

Union officials also have given the execution training the OK, Salvatore Luciano, executive director of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees Council 4, said. His union represents prison guards.

The Correction Department cleared the change with the union, and the employees preparing for executions are a volunteer-only force, he said.