(Updated 5:35 p.m.) The trial of Steven Hayes, which will resume Wednesday, has catapulted the issue of the death penalty to the forefront of the gubernatorial contest between Democratic nominee Dan Malloy and Republican nominee Tom Foley.
Foley has said he supports the death penalty, while Malloy, a former prosecutor, doesn’t.
However, their support and opposition is as nuanced as the current law itself.
“If ever two guys deserve to be put to death I supposed these two guys from Cheshire deserved it,” Malloy said in an interview Tuesday with Sunday Morning Coffee.
But he also called for a little honesty in the debate and said even if Republican Gov. M. Jodi Rell had signed the bill to repeal the death penalty in 2009, it would not have applied to the Cheshire case.
In 2009 the House passed the bill with 90 votes and the Senate voted 19-17 to abolish the death penalty. Rell vetoed the bill on June 5, 2009.
“I don’t believe the death penalty is a proper tool of the government,” Malloy said Tuesday. “I don’t support the death penalty because I know that its been wrongly used in a great number of cases.“
Asked if he would stay an execution, Malloy said “that’s not a governors prerogative,” under the Connecticut Constitution.
Republican Party Chairman Chris Healy said Tuesday that Malloy’s stance on the death penalty shows he’s not ready to be governor.
Healy said Foley supports the death penalty. Foley was unavailable for comment Tuesday, but his campaign said Healy accurately represented his views on the death penalty.
“Making the death penalty enforceable after all thorough and reasonable appeals is essential to providing justice,” said Healy. “Democrats in the Legislature have failed to reform the laws governing habeas appeals, thereby allowing those who have been found guilty of capital crimes, to deny ultimate justice while living at taxpayer expense on death row.”
“Connecticut needs a Governor who supports the rule of law and who can work to make those laws applicable and timely,” said Healy. “Dan Malloy is not committed to making sure the guilty pay the price and his election will mean the death penalty will be removed as both a deterrent and a just punishment for those who are both violent and evil.”
But Malloy’s campaign said Healy’s attempt to paint their candidate as soft on crime isn’t going to work.
“Dan was a prosecutor; he put people in jail for a living,” Roy Occhiogrosso, a Malloy consultant said. “Tom’s experience with the criminal justice system consists of being arrested twice, and then paying lawyers to seal his arrest records. For voters making up their minds on issues of public safety, we’re confident they’ll choose the former prosecutor and tough-on-crime mayor…as opposed to the guy who was arrested for a felony and then lied about it..”
Foley was arrested twice back in 1981 and 1993. In both cases the charges were dropped and no records remain.
The death penalty was debated for more than 20 hours on the floor of the House and the Senate back in 2009.
A 2003 report commissioned by former Gov. John G. Rowland and testimony from the Chief States Attorney Kevin Kane in 2009 concluded there is nothing the state legislature or governor can do in order to shorten the time death penalty cases need to be resolved, with the exception of giving more resources to prosecutors and the court system.
“I believe that the current law is workable and effective and I would propose that it not be changed,” Rell said in her 2009 veto message.
A May 28, 2009 Quinnipiac University poll found that 61 percent of state residents supported the death penalty rather than replacing it with life in prison without parole.
It’s unclear whether public opinion on the death penalty has changed since 2009.
Dr. William Petit Jr. whose wife and two daughters were brutally murdered in their home in July 2007 has said the “death penalty is the appropriate just and moral societal response to those who commit capital felonies.”