After a marathon session of debate, the Connecticut Senate passed a bill early on Thursday morning abolishing the death penalty, making the state all but certain to end capital punishment within weeks.
Connecticut would be the 17th state to repeal the death penalty and the first since Illinois ended the practice in August 2011.
The vote, which ended 20-16 in favor of repeal, was the largest remaining hurdle for the new law. According to the Hartford Courant, the bill has wide backing in the House of Representatives, while Gov. Daniel Malloy's support of repeal has been unequivocal.
"I want to be very clear that if such a bill was to come to me, I will sign it," Malloy said, according to The Day last month. "We do not have a workable death penalty in the state of Connecticut today. Period."
Connecticut currently has 11 death row inmates. The bill passed by the Senate would only apply to future convictions, a compromise that allowed several previously opposed lawmakers to back to the repeal. But Chief Public Defender Susan O. Storey and Chief State’s Attorney Kevin Kane stated in a hearing last month that the repeal would make execution of the current inmates unlikely.
In response to that reality, the Senate passed an amendment to the bill that will impose tougher punishments on inmates sentenced to life without the possibility of parole. Such restrictions, including near-solitary confinement, frequent cell moves and strict monitoring, were designed to "essentially replicate life on death row."
The vote occurred largely along party lines, with two Democratic senators joining all the chamber's 12 Republicans in opposing the bill. Minority Leader John McKinney argued that life imprisonment, even with the tougher restrictions, was not sufficient justice for some crimes. "The Democrat amendment gives Connecticut murderers an escape hatch to avoid the harsher conditions of incarceration that the proponents claim and that current death-row inmates experience,'' he said during the debate.
McKinney also said there was no proven need to overturn the death penalty, saying that "there is no evidence that anyone currently on death row is innocent."
Democratic Sen. Eric Coleman, meanwhile, disagreed that capital punishment in Connecticut has been just. Repeal, he said, was "an opportunity to correct the arbitrariness, the discrimination, the random haphazard approach to the application of our death penalty in this state."