Opponents of death penalty see momentum

Repealed by five states in five years

Death penalty opponents said Thursday that this week’s votes putting Connecticut on track to become the 17th state to abandon capital punishment shows that the long campaign against the death penalty is gaining serious momentum.

“The National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty has been at it for 35 years, and I am pleased to say that the end of our struggle is in sight,” said Diann Rust-Tierney, executive director of the coalition in a statement.

Both Amnesty International and the National Coalition say they see momentum in state capitals to abolish the death penalty, in part because of new revelations exonerating a number of inmates on death row. Five states in the past five years have done away with the death penalty.

Joshua Rubenstein, northeast regional director of Amnesty International USA, said Connecticut state lawmakers used many of the arguments that Amnesty International put forth in the past.

Lawmakers narrowly passed a death penalty repeal in 2009 but could not override a veto by then-Gov. Jodi Rell, a Republican. The 20-16 majority for repeal in the state Senate vote April 5 included several lawmakers who had opposed repeal in the past.

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“When I sign this bill, Connecticut will join 16 other states and almost every other industrialized nation in moving toward what I believe is a better public policy,” said Connecticut Gov. Dan Malloy, a Democrat.

California has a ballot measure in November asking the voters in the state whether or not to repeal the state’s death penalty. Ms. Rust-Tierney said the Kansas legislature almost repealed the punishment but was stopped by one vote in 2010.

Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber, a Democrat, announced recently that he would not allow any executions to proceed in the state while he is in office. Capital punishment has been repealed and reinstated three separate times in the state.

Ms. Rust-Tierney said she was confident the state will not keep the death penalty. Once a state gets a taste of a justice system “not burdened” by the penalty, “it’s hard to go back,” she said.

Under the new Connecticut statute, the harshest punishment would be living conditions similar to death row.

“Going forward, we will have a system that allows us to put these people away for life, in living conditions none of us would want to experience,” Mr. Malloy said. “Let’s throw away the key and have them spend the rest of their natural lives in jail.”

Connecticut Democrats, on a largely party-line vote, pushed the death penalty repeal through despite the national attention generated by a sensationally gruesome 2007 murder in the state. The victims’ relatives strongly spoke out for retaining the death penalty.

“There is no such thing as closure when your loved one is savagely taken from you. There can, however, be adequate and just punishment and that is the death penalty,” wrote William Petit and Johanna Petit Chapman in a letter in March 2011.

Mr. Petit survived a home-invasion in central Connecticut in 2007 which left his wife and two daughters dead. Mrs. Chapman is his sister.

“It’s not a question of what they want and it’s not a question of what the condemned prisoner deserves,” said Amnesty International’s Mr. Rubenstein.

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