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Backstory on Connecticut Death Penalty Repeal

April 13, 2012

HARTFORD, Conn. – Now that both the Connecticut House and Senate have passed the death penalty abolition bill, it awaits only the promised signature of Gov. Dannel Malloy to become law.

The 11 men on death row will remain there, however. Senate Majority Leader Martin Looney explains why lawmakers didn't make it retroactive.

"Making it prospective did help assemble the majority that was needed, because many people believed that it would not be proper, necessarily, to change the circumstances of those who had committed their crimes under existing law."

Gov. Malloy issued a statement on Thursday that the state would "throw away the key" for all those who are convicted of murder, with sentences of life without the possibility of release. Connecticut will become the 17th state to outlaw execution.

Another compromise was an amendment making conditions for those serving life without parole as tough as for those on death row, including solitary confinement - which is considered torture under international law, when imposed for years or decades.

According to Looney, lawmakers consulted with the state's correction commissioner to craft the bill without running afoul of provisions against cruel and unusual punishment.

"He was concerned that, if we were to go any further in terms of severe restrictions, we might possibly create a challenge on those grounds, that the conditions were being too harsh."

Looney adds one impetus for repeal of the death penalty was the inconsistency with which it had been applied.

"There are 57 other people currently serving life sentences, and their crimes, and the circumstances of their crimes, are in many ways indistinguishable from those of the 11 who are on death row."

Under the new law, corrections officials will have some say in the long-term conditions of those serving life without parole.

Melinda Tuhus, Public News Service - CT