Another Effort To Repeal The Death Penalty In Connecticut

Mar 14, 2012

State legislators are hearing testimony today on a bill to repeal the death penalty in Connecticut. Previous efforts to repeal capital punishment in the state have failed, but advocates hope they can get it done this time around. WNPR’s Neena Satija reports.

Three years ago Connecticut nearly passed a bill to repeal the death penalty, only to be vetoed by then governor Jodi Rell. Last year the bill almost made it to a vote until two key senators changed their minds at the last minute. The makeup of the state Senate has changed now and it seems less likely that a repeal will pass this year. But that isn’t stopping representative Gary Holder-Winfield of New Haven, who led the charge for abolition when he was first elected to the General Assembly in 2009.

HOLDER-WINFIELD: “I’m not sure in the Senate if we have the votes today. But in 2009 when I got into the General Assembly, no one would have agreed that we had the votes. And yet through working, talking to people, getting them to see things about the death penalty they had never thought about before, we wound up with the votes in both the House and the Senate.”

Advocates for repeal say a lot of things have changed since their last try. The Cheshire murder trials are now over. A repeal of the death penalty would be prospective, meaning those sentenced to death in the murder trials would still face capital punishment. And there are a few votes in play in the Senate. One of those is Senator Edith Prague – although she’s not happy about that possibility.

PRAGUE: “I hope not. I really don’t want that responsibility.”

Last year Prague was in favor of repeal until she sat down with Dr. William Petit, the lone survivor in the Cheshire murders. This year she said she’s undecided. But she said she’s been given another consideration after meeting recently with a man named James Tillman. Tillman spent almost 20 years in prison for allegedly raping a woman before DNA testing found him innocent in 2006.

PRAGUE: “He didn’t utter one mean hateful nasty word about what the system did to him and yet it took eighteen years of his life for something he never did.”

Prague’s concern is that someone could end up getting the death penalty for something they didn’t do. Testimony on the bill to repeal capital punishment is expected to last till midnight or later tonight.

For WNPR, I’m Neena Satija.

A version of this story appeared in the Connecticut Mirror.