On Tuesday, the judiciary committee of the Connecticut legislature endorsed a bill to abolish the death penalty in that state. This bill, which needs to be approved by both houses of the state legislature, replaces the death penalty with life without parole. This is the second time in three years that lawmakers in Connecticut have considered repealing the death penalty.
In 2009, both chambers passed a similar bill, but it was vetoed by Gov. M. Jodi Rell. Her successor, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, is an opponent of the death penalty and has said he will sign a repeal bill should one reach his desk -- this makes it harder to pass the bill, of course.
Many issues were a part of this recommendation: The high cost of the death penalty was one, as was deterrence, which -- as I have written before -- is a chimera.
I hope, though, that the legislature will listen to the murder victim's families -- really listen -- and pass the bill and join Illinois and the 15 other states that no longer spend our precious and diminishing resources on a punishment that helps no one. Many murder victims' families were among the strongest supporters of the repeal bill. They came to the legislature and told their stories, many holding pictures of their loved ones. Their argument was a simple one: Connecticut's death penalty is broken; it perpetuates a system that torments the victims' families with a promise of closure that never comes. When one of them was questioned about the well-known case of the murder of Dr. Petit's family and his support for the death penalty she said:
I am so sorry we were not able to abolish capital punishment before those murders in Cheshire happened, because we've watched over the last year ... what the trial did to that family," she said. "We watched what the trial did to those elderly parents; we watched Dr. Petit weep in the courtroom; we watched that family have to be confronted with bloody photographs, horrifying details, and I can only say that I am so sorry that Dr. Petit has to go through this. This family will be going through appeals for decades. I think that they will never see (Hayes and Komisarjevsky) executed. I have no advice to Dr. Petit except to tell him he is in our hearts and our prayers and we grieve with his family as they go through this," and she finished "I urge the Connecticut legislature to see to it that this never happens to another family.
I think I can say nothing as eloquent in support of this bill as many family members of Connecticut murder victims said in their letter to the legislature:
We are individuals and families who have lost loved ones to murder. At a moment none of us could have predicted or prepared for, tragedy robbed from us children, parents, spouses, brothers and sisters, and other family members. Our direct experiences with the criminal justice system and struggling with grief have led us all to the same conclusion: Connecticut's death penalty fails victims' families.
Our view on the death penalty may come as a surprise. Supporters of ending the death penalty often face the question: "What if it were your loved one who was murdered?" For each one of us, that question has ceased to be hypothetical and become a reality. We never asked to be in this position, and would do anything to change it. We realize, however, that nothing can erase the loss that a senseless act of violence brought into our lives. But we can honor the memory of our loved ones and other families who may face tragedy by working for effective responses to violence. The death penalty, rather than preventing violence, only perpetuates it and inflicts further pain on survivors.
The reality of the death penalty is that it drags out the legal process for decades. In Connecticut, the death penalty is a false promise that goes unfulfilled, leaving victims' families frustrated and angry after years of fighting the legal system. And as the state hangs onto this broken system, it wastes millions of dollars that could go toward much needed victims' services.
Some believe that they stand with victims' families by supporting the death penalty for "particularly heinous murders." We have difficulty understanding this position. The implication is that other murders are ordinary and do not merit the death penalty. From experience, we can tell you that every murder is heinous, a tragedy for the lost one's family. The death penalty has the effect of elevating certain victims' families above others. Connecticut should be better than that.
They then urge passage of the bill.
Each of them do so carrying with them the tragedy they have lived through, each of them do so mindful of the terrible story that is forever a part of their lives, each of them doing so bearing a burden most of us are fortunate enough to have never experienced.
The legislature of Connecticut should listen to them. We all should.
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