Connecticut is set to become the fifth U.S. state to abolish the death penalty after a 20-16 Senate vote Thursday morning boosted the proposal to remove capital punishment and make life imprisonment the maximum possible sentence for convicts.
Four other states in the last 5 years have repealed the death penalty – including, New Jersey, New York, New Mexico and Illinois, but 16 states in total have repealed capital punishment in the United States. The Hartford Courant reported that the legislation in Connecticut is largely expected to pass the House of Representatives, and Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, a Democrat, has already said he is ready to sign the bill.
Some voters who changed their mind on capital punishment and now oppose it explained that their biggest concern was the possibility that a court's decision may be incorrect and an innocent person might be put to death.
"I cannot stand the thought of being responsible for someone being falsely accused and facing the death penalty,'' explained Sen. Edith Prague, who said he once supported the death penalty "For me this is a moral issue...I don't want to be part of a system that sends innocent people...to the death penalty."
Others, like Sen. Gayle Slossberg, D-Miford, offered a more philosophical outlook about the future of society in relation to capital punishment.
"For me, the most compelling reason to reject the death penalty is to set ourselves on the path to the kind of society we really want for our future,'' she said.
"I want something better for our future. We cannot confront darkness with darkness and expect light," the senator added.
The report explained that it was mostly Republicans who voted in favor of retaining capital punishment.
Senate Minority Leader John McKinney said that fears of executing innocent people are overblown.
"In theory would anybody want to vote for something that could possibly lead to the execution of an innocent person? Absolutely not,'' McKinney offered. "But we're not dealing in theory. We're dealing in the facts that we have, not in Illinois, not in Texas and not in Florida, but here in Connecticut, it's not in dispute. There is no evidence that anyone currently on death row is innocent."
Dr. William Petit, whose wife and two daughters were murdered in a violent home invasion in 2007, tried on Wednesday before the debate to remind the Senate that some crimes are inexcusable and can only be punished by death.
"We believe in the death penalty because we believe it is really the only true just punishment for certain heinous and depraved murders,'' Dr. Petit said.
Eleven inmates are currently on Connecticut's death row, including the two men, Joshua Komisarjevsky and Steven Hayes, who murdered Dr. Petit's family. Even if the state approves the bill to ban capital punishment, however, the sentences of the current death row inmates will not be affected.
Still, the vast majority of U.S. states support the death penalty, as do Americans at large, the most recent Pew Research Center survey found. Although support for the death penalty has been declining since the 1990s, in 2011, 62 percent of the U.S. population was still in favor of it.
In terms of support, there was a bigger divide between political lines than religious beliefs, the poll found. Conservative Republicans favored the death penalty by 84 percent, while only 40 percent of Liberal Democrats supported it. Sixty-seven percent of Protestants, 59 percent of Catholics and 57 percent of Unaffiliated, on the other hand, gave their backing to capital punishment.