Christine Stuart photo
William Dow, defense attorney and past president of the Criminal Defense Lawyers Association (Christine Stuart photo)

A poll released earlier today may have found that a sampling of Connecticut residents support the death penalty, but a group of defense lawyers, one nun, and a man who was exonerated after spending time on death row, disagree with public opinion.

William Dow, past president of the Connecticut Criminal Defense Lawyers Association, urged Republican Gov. M. Jodi Rell to sign the bill to abolish the death penalty because “revenge is never sweet.”

“The state of Connecticut has no business being in the business of killing people,” Dow said Thursday at a Capitol press conference.

Jennifer Zito, another defense attorney, said worldwide the trend has been toward abolition. She said the only person standing in the way of a more humane and just state is Rell. “I’m proud the legislature believes in a more evolved system of justice,” Zito said.

The House voted 90-56 and the Senate voted 19-17 last week to repeal the death penalty after lengthy debates in both chambers. The bill is making its way to the governor’s desk, but Rell has said “I will veto this bill as soon as it hits my desk.”

Zito pleaded with Rell to put aside her personal notions of justice and sign the bill.

Sister Helen Prejean, author of “Dead Men Walking” and a leading advocate for abolishment of the death penalty joined Thursday’s press conference via teleconference.

Prejean said she visited with Michael Ross before his execution in 2005. She described Ross as a “conflicted, mentally disturbed young man,” who tried to kill himself twice. She said the only reason Ross was executed is because “he decided to end it.”

A native of New Orleans, Prejean, opined that people in Connecticut are not keen to practice the death penalty. She said 80 percent of the executions since 1976 have been in 10 southern states that have long histories of slavery and racism. She said only 1 percent have occurred in the Northeast.

Every argument in favor of the death penalty from its cost to its application fails, then you get to the argument of the victims, Prejean said. She said because we’re not the ones who have suffered the loss, we feel we owe it to the victims’ family to keep the death penalty.

“Leaders in the community have to think about more than a particular case,” Prejean said. “They have to think about the good of the community.”

Illinois resident Randy Steidl, the 116th death row inmate to be exonerated, also attended Thursday’s press conference. “One innocent life lost by execution is not worth 10 guilty persons being executed,” he said in a press release.

In addition to the Connecticut Criminal Defense Lawyers Association, the Catholic Bishops and Rev. Davida Crabtree the Conference Minister of the United Church of Christ sent letters to Rell urging her to sign the bill repealing the death penalty.

“I write to remind you that we of the religious leadership in Connecticut speak with one voice in opposition to the death penalty, Protestant, Roman Catholic, Jewish and Muslim,” Rev. Crabtree wrote. “Yes, you can find individuals here and there who take a different position, but we who lead are virtually in unanimous agreement on this issue.  Please sign that legislation and restore our moral compass. “

“The punishment of life imprisonment without the possibility of release clearly and adequately protects society, equitably punishes the offender, and respects the value of human life,” the Catholic Bishops wrote in their letter to Rell Thursday.