Connecticut’s House of Representatives has approved a bill to ban the death penalty that was passed by the state Senate last week and is expected to be signed into law by the governor.
The proposed law — which passed by an 86-62 vote late Wednesday — would replace the death penalty with life imprisonment and make Connecticut the fifth US state to ban capital punishment in the last five years.
However, it would still allow the state to execute the 11 men currently on death row, a compromise struck by the Democratic majority, which supported the bill, and Republicans who opposed it.
The years-long effort to repeal the death penalty in Connecticut has been been shadowed by a shocking 2007 triple murder, and the often tense debate on the House floor lasted more than nine hours, according to the Hartford Courant.
“This vote tonight literally allows Connecticut to break with a centuries-old tradition of executing people and rejoin the rest of the Western world,” it quoted Benjamin Todd Jealous, the head of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), a civil rights group, as saying.
“It also moves our nation forward,” he added, after watching the debate from the House gallery. The bill now goes to Governor Dannel Malloy, who has pledged to sign it into law.
Death penalty opponents argue that capital punishment has been unfairly applied and resulted in the deaths of innocent people who could have been exonerated by new evidence, including DNA testing.
A similar bill was approved by both chambers in 2009 but vetoed by then-governor Jodi Rell, who cited the high-profile case of two men sentenced to die for the brutal 2007 attack on the home of doctor William Petit.
Petit was beaten with a baseball bat and tied up while his wife was dragged off to a bank to withdraw money. One of the assailants then raped and strangled her, while his accomplice raped the doctor’s 11-year-old daughter.
The girl and her 17-year-old sister were tied to their beds, doused in fuel and left to burn as the intruders set the house ablaze and fled.
Petit, still tied up, escaped to a neighbor’s house and called the police. The two men were tried, convicted and now sit on death row, and in recent years Petit and his sister Johanna have lobbied against the bill.
According to the Death Penalty Information Center, Connecticut has carried out only one execution since the re-establishment of capital punishment in the United States in 1976.
Four other states — Illinois, New Jersey, New Mexico and New York — have dropped the death penalty in the past five years, while support is growing in California to repeal the measure.