It’s been four years since the General Assembly debated the death penalty, but later this afternoon lawmakers in the House are expected to break that streak and debate a bill to eliminate the death penalty in favor of life without parole.
A group of bipartisan lawmakers gathered Wednesday morning to say they oppose abolishing the death penalty. Instead the group will propose an amendment which would streamline the current process and shorten the appeals process for those sentenced to death.
Rep. Steven Mikutel, D-Griswold, said he doesn’t think eliminating the death penalty will help the families of victims find justice.
Reading a passage from Dr. William Petit’s testimony to the Judiciary Committee against eliminating the death penalty, Mikutel said the current death penalty is difficult, if not impossible to implement.
Petit, whose wife, Jennifer Hawke-Petit, and two daughters, Hayley and Michaela, were murdered in July 2007, said he supports the death penalty.
“My family got the death penalty and you want to give murderers life,” Petit said told the Judiciary Committee in March.
Petit told the Judiciary Committee how painful it has been going through the legal proceedings as he seeks justice for his family. “It’s delay, delay, delay for no apparent reason,” he said.
Rep. William Hamzy, R-Terryville, said “It’s not revenge, it’s justice.” He said people need to remember there are victims of these crimes.
“There’s no reason the legislature can’t give them a workable death penalty,” Mikutel said.
Rep. David Labriola, R-Naugatuck, said to abolish the death penalty would be a slap in the face to the families of the victims. He said Florida has a workable death penalty and Connecticut should look at its laws of an example of what can be accomplished.
Rep. Arthur O’Neill, R-Southbury, said in Florida from the time of an offense to execution is about 13 years.
Rep. Michael Lawlor, D-East Haven, said he supports life in prison over the death penalty.
Just on principle, he said, he doesn’t think the government should execute anyone. However, he said, everyone currently on death row will still face the death penalty even if this legislation passes and that includes the two parolees charged with the Petit murders.
Lawlor said the bill up for debate today also wouldn’t change the fact that no one convicted of murder ever receives parole.
Individuals convicted of murder have had to serve their entire sentence since 1980, he said.
In 1993 the state got rid of “good time” credits and the legislation up for debate today does not include returning those “good time” credits to the system.
Lawlor estimated that about one-third of the House supports the death penalty, one-third opposes it, and one-third don’t have strong feelings one way or another. The last one-third is the group that will be targeted during Wednesday’s debate.
Lawlor also said the none of the 10 inmates on death row are going to be executed. “Who are we kidding? We’re never really going to do this,” he said. He said three of the 10 death row inmates committed their crimes in the 1980s and still aren’t past their first appeals.
However, even if the bill passes, Gov. M. Jodi Rell has said she opposes eliminating the death penalty.
“I think that I still support the death penalty for those crimes which are the most heinous,” Rell said in March before the Judiciary Committee first debated the bill.