Gov. Dannel P. Malloy departed from his hands-off opposition to the death penalty Thursday, holding a press conference with NAACP President Benjamin Todd Jealous on his organization’s efforts to abolish it.
Malloy met with Jealous and other leaders from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People on the issue for about a half hour before the press conference. Since taking office the governor has maintained that if the legislature sends him a bill that prospectively abolishes the death penalty, he will sign it.
“Ben didn’t have to travel all this way to convince me,” he said.
Jealous said the NAACP is committed to seeing the death penalty brought before the U.S. Supreme Court. In order for that to happen, 26 states must pass laws abolishing capital punishment. So far, 16 states already have, he said. He’s hoping Connecticut is next.
He said Malloy has been easier to work with than former Gov. M. Jodi Rell. Jealous said he was scheduled to meet with Rell in 2009 when the legislature passed a bill abolishing the death penalty. But Rell vetoed the bill before the meeting ever took place.
“This is a governor who gets it,” Jealous said of Malloy. “A former prosecutor, he’s someone who understands this doesn’t make us any safer. And that’s really why I’m here.”
Malloy said his views on the death penalty were shaped after law school when he was working as a prosecutor in New York. During that time he brought four homicide cases to trial and said he later served as a defense lawyer in another murder trial.
“I saw the disproportionate impact on racial groups, how some of our laws are applied,” Malloy said, adding that although he was ambivalent about the death penalty prior to becoming a prosecutor, he said he “probably would have supported the death penalty” before that period in his career.
The governor said his views on the issue now are well known, but while he thinks lawmakers should support the bill he said he would not be reaching out to the three state senators who are on the fence in the sharply divided Senate.
“If it’s helpful for any of them to speak to me about this issue, I’d certainly make myself available,” he said.
Sen. John Kissel, R-Enfield, supports the death penalty and said it is appropriate that the governor is not planning to aggressively lobby the bill.
“It would seem to me to run counter to his urging everyone to search their own consciences as to how they feel regarding this issue,” Kissel said.
The senator noted that he was happy to hear that a recent Quinnipiac poll found that a majority of Connecticut residents support the death penalty, and he also said he believes capital punishment serves an important role in the criminal justice system.
Regarding the poll, Malloy said the question posed neglected to offer life in prison as an alternative to the death penalty, which is what the bill would accomplish. When given that option, voters in previous polls have been more evenly split.
The governor said the state is spending too much money on litigation for a death penalty that’s rarely imposed.
“No person has been put to death in the state of Connecticut since the death penalty was reinstated, except a person who volunteered,” he said.
Jealous said the state should take the money it currently spends defending and prosecuting capital cases and spend it on local homicide units.
“Use [the money] not to kill the killers we already have in cages, but to get the uncaught killers off the street,” he said.