Connecticut officially became the fifth state in the past five years to abolish the death penalty after Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy signed the bill Wednesday at a private ceremony.
Earlier this month the state's Senate voted 20-16 in favor of removing capital punishment and making life imprisonment the maximum possible sentence for convicts – in the U.S., 16 other states in total have abolished the death penalty.
A spokeswoman for Gov. Malloy said he called the bill a "historic moment" for the state, and that it was a time "for sober reflection, not celebration." The ceremony was attended by lawmakers, members of clergy and the families of victims, The Associated Press reported.
The 11 inmates currently on death row in Connecticut will not be affected, however, and their sentences will be carried out as planned.
"This takes the momentum for repeal up a notch. We have another state saying, 'we've tried this experiment and the death penalty has failed,'" expressed Shari Silberstein, Executive Director of Equal Justice USA (EJUSA), a national organization that supports repeal of the death penalty.
"The death penalty is clearly on its way out. From East to West, states find the same flaws with the death penalty. It makes mistakes, is ineffective and unfairly applied, and it fails to meet the needs of the people whose loved ones are murdered," she added.
Those opposed to the bill, however, like State Senate Minority Leader John McKinney, have argued that the death penalty is still needed and 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 before the Senate vote in April. "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."