Connecticut legislature votes to repeal death penalty

The Connecticut legislature has voted to repeal the state's death penalty, and the Democratic governor is expected to sign it into law. That would make the state the 17th to end capital punishment.

The House of Representatives voted in favor of the bill 86-62 late Wednesday night.

The bill would abolish the death penalty and replace it with a maximum sentence of life in prison without the possibility of release. It would not affect the sentences of the 11 inmates already on Connecticut's death row.

The proposal cleared its biggest hurdle last week when it won approval in the state Senate.

Connecticut has executed only one inmate in 51 years.

The death penalty has been on the books in Connecticut for more than 150 years.

Hours before the House debate Wednesday, repeal proponents had urged their legislators to follow the lead of the Senate. Milford resident Dawn Mancarella, whose mother, Joyce Masury, was murdered in 1996, said she represented more than 180 people who have lost loved ones to murder and were backing repeal. She said they do not believe the death penalty helps them.

"Some of us have seen the loss of their loved ones all but ignored while capital cases get months, or even years, of attention," she said during a morning news conference. "Some of us have endured capital cases and are horrified that the death penalty ensnares them in a never-ending wait for execution."

An effort to repeal the state's death penalty failed to clear the Senate last year as one of two men charged in a brutal 2007 home invasion was still facing trial. Dr. William Petit Jr., whose wife and two daughters were killed in the attack, lobbied lawmakers to keep the death penalty in place.

The two killers in that case are now on death row, and officials including Gov. Dannel P. Malloy insisted as a condition of their support for repeal that the law would not affect inmates already condemned to die. But Petit and some Republican critics say lawyers for death row inmates would inevitably use the new law as grounds for appeals.

Connecticut has carried out only one execution in 51 years, when serial killer Michael Ross was administered a lethal injection in 2005 after he gave up his appeal rights.

In the past five years, four states have abolished the death penalty -- New Mexico, Illinois, New Jersey and New York. Repeal proposals are also pending in several other states including Kansas and Kentucky, while advocates in California have gathered enough signatures for an initiative that could go before the voters in November.