Death Penalty In 2012: Seven Significant Signs

A final tally of the Connecticut legislature's  vote to abolish the death penalty.

A final tally of the Connecticut legislature’s vote to abolish the death penalty.

By this time at the end of the year, states have generally stopped killing their prisoners. This break from executions is a good thing, and perhaps this year it will give us a chance to reflect on the larger question of our violent culture, and on how perhaps we can start focusing on preventing terrible crimes rather than simply responding with more violence.

The end of the year is also a time for looking back. Fortunately, this is also the time of year when the Death Penalty Information Center releases its year-end report, which provides a lot of good data. This year’s version reveals the geographically arbitrary (and increasingly isolated) nature of capital punishment in the U.S. In 2012, death sentences and executions maintained their historically low levels, and only nine states actually carried out an execution.  In fact, the majority of U.S. states have not carried out an execution in the last five years. Just four states were responsible for around three-fourths of the country’s executions, and four states issued about two thirds of U.S. death sentences.

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Connecticut Death Penalty Abolished! (California Next?)

death penalty abolished in connecticut

With his signature, Connecticut Governor Dannel P. Malloy signed into law the repeal of Connecticut’s death penalty, making his state the 17th, and the 5th in the last 5 years, to do away with capital punishment.  The law is not retroactive, so 11 men remain on Connecticut’s death row.

It is surely a sign of progress for the death penalty abolition movement that such a success could occur in the midst of contentious and escalating election year politics.  Previous legislative repeal victories have occurred during the more sedate odd-numbered years (New Jersey, 2007; New Mexico, 2009, Illinois, 2011).

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Connecticut’s Death Penalty Repeal Bill Going To The Governor!

The Connecticut House of Representatives, by a vote of 86-62, has approved the bill abolishing that state’s death penalty.  It will now go to Governor Dannel P. Malloy for his signature.

With Connecticut set to join, there will soon be 17 states (plus Washington, D.C.) in the abolitionist club.  Five years ago, there were only 12.

And other states seem likely to follow in the near future.  Maryland already has a majority in its legislature that supports repeal.  Oregon now has a Governor-imposed moratorium on executions.  Montana and Colorado, with just two and four people on their respective death rows, have been close to ending their death penalties in recent years.  New Hampshire and Kansas have had no executions since 1939 and 1965 respectively.  And in California, some 800,000 citizens have endorsed a November 2012 ballot initiative that would replace their state’s incredibly expensive death penalty.

Governor Malloy is expected to sign Connecticut’s bill into law soon.

Connecticut Senate Passes Death Penalty Repeal!

Overcoming a major hurdle, death penalty repeal in Connecticut has passed in the state Senate by a vote of 20-16.  The bill, with the endorsement of 179 murder victim family members, would remove the death penalty as an option for all future crimes.  It now goes to the House and, if it passes there, to Governor Dannel P. Malloy, who has said he will sign it.

Connecticut would become the 17th state to abolish the death penalty, meaning that more than one-third of U.S. states would no longer have capital punishment.  Connecticut would also be the 5th state in 5 years to get rid of the death penalty.  In 2007, New York’s last death sentence was commuted, officially ending that state’s association with capital punishment.  In December 2007, New Jersey legislatively repealed its death penalty.  New Mexico did likewise in 2009, and Illinois in 2011.

As Amnesty International reported in March, two-thirds of the world’s countries no longer use capital punishment.  This vote in Connecticut is yet one more sign that the death penalty, both around the world and here in the U.S., is on its way out.

Connecticut Committee Endorses Abolition

Yesterday Connecticut’s Judiciary Committee voted in favor of repealing the death penalty.  It will now be up to the full House and Senate to vote up or down on whether Connecticut will finally get rid of capital punishment.

Last year, a similar bill was stymied by the fact that a high profile death penalty trial was ongoing. In 2009, a repeal bill passed both houses but was vetoed by then Governor Jodi Rell.  The current Governor has said he supports repeal, and 179 murder victim family members signed a letter in support of ending Connecticut’s use of the death penalty.

Meanwhile in Maryland, repeal bills with 66 House and 19 Senate cosponsors, and with a majority ready to vote for them, remain stuck in committees.  No state is more ripe for repeal than Maryland, where there hasn’t been a jury-issued death sentence in 10 years, and where a 2008 study commission set up by the legislature found that capital punishment is “more detrimental” to victims’ families than the alternatives.

If you live in Connecticut or Maryland, you can take action now to help push repeal across the finish line.

Connecticut Victim Families Fight for Death Penalty Abolition

against the death penalty

(c) Scott Langley

A bill to repeal Connecticut’s death penalty was introduced on Wednesday.  It has an excellent chance of passing, largely because an increasing number of murder victim family members have been calling for an end to capital punishment in their state.  There’s a blog on which many of them discuss their reasons, and this piece in the New London Day and this piece in the West Hartford News both do a good job of outlining why so many murder victim family members have had it with Connecticut’s death penalty and believe they will be better off without it.

There are many reasons victim family members may oppose the death penalty.  There is the endless process that turns the killer into a celebrity while forcing the family to constantly relive the worst moment of their lives.  There is the waste of resources that could be spent on counseling and other real support for survivors of homicide.  And there is the false promise of an execution which will most likely never happen (especially in Connecticut where there has been only one execution in the last 50 years) and may not provide the expected “closure” even if it does.

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Death Penalty Abolition: Five States That Could Be Next

witness viewing room death penalty

Witness viewing room © Scott Langley

Three states have abolished the death penalty legislatively in recent years: New Jersey in 2007, New Mexico in 2009, and Illinois in 2011.  Inevitably, more states will follow; but can a state or states abolish the death penalty in an even-numbered (read: election) year?  We will find out in 2012.

As Politico reported on Friday, states that are poised to end their experiment with capital punishment next year include Connecticut, Kansas, Maryland, and Ohio, as well as California (through a ballot initiative).  This is quite a diverse collection of states, ranging from small to large and from conservative to liberal, which goes to show how mainstream an issue death penalty abolition has become.

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First Steps Toward Abolition in Connecticut

By Helen Jack, Yale University Amnesty International Chapter Coordinator

 

Following the lead of Illinois, Connecticut took a step toward death penalty abolition. On Monday, the Connecticut Judiciary Committee, a joint committee of the House and Senate, held a public hearing on bills that would end execution in the state.

Along with a group of student activists, I traveled to Hartford to attend the public hearing. In the hearing room, we put on red stickers that read, “End the Death Penalty” and joined murder victims’ family members, exonerees, religious leaders, and other members of the Connecticut Network to Abolish the Death Penalty who were there to support abolition.

Eighty-two victims’ family members have signed a letter supporting abolition in Connecticut, and many of those family members offered powerful testimonies before the Judiciary Committee.  This follows on the heels of last month’s powerful press conference where 76 of the victims’ family members first announced their strong endorsement of abolition (see video above).

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Montana Senate Votes to Abolish Death Penalty

By a 26-24 vote, the Montana Senate yesterday voted to repeal the death penalty.   Twenty-two Democrats and 4 Republicans voted for the measure (SB 185), which now goes to the House.   This is the second straight legislative session in which the Montana Senate has endorsed repeal. 

This year, an abolition bill has already passed in Illinois, where it awaits action from the Governor.  And other repeal bills have been filed in states across the country, from Maryland to Connecticut to Kansas to Washington.

Abolition has become more appealing to state legislators in recent years as they have become more aware of capital punishment’s exorbitant financial cost, the dangers of executing the innocent, and the grueling toll the death penalty process takes on victim families.

Connecticut Is Wrong To Veto Death Penalty Abolition Bill

I am extremely disappointed that Governor M. Jodi Rell today vetoed HB 6578, which would have abolished the death penalty in Connecticut.

Governor Rell’s veto of this legislation represents a missed opportunity for the state of Connecticut to extricate itself from the useless and costly boondoggle that is capital punishment.  Any other policy that wasted valuable taxpayer dollars without reducing crime or making anyone safer would have been eliminated without hesitation.

No system can be perfected enough to prevent the innocent from being sent to death row.  Recent cases have demonstrated the fallibility of Connecticut’s justice system.  In the last two years James Tillman, who was given 45 years for rape, and Miguel Roman, who was sentenced to 60 years for murder, were found to be have been wrongfully convicted.  The exonerations of these innocent men ought to make Governor Rell realize that the irreversible punishment of death has no place in a system that makes such mistakes.

This veto puts Connecticut squarely on the wrong side of history. The use of the death penalty is dropping in every state of the union, as juries pass fewer death sentences and state legislatures impose greater restrictions. Some, such as New Mexico, repeal capital punishment altogether.  An average of three countries end the use of the death penalty each year, and today more than two-thirds of nations worldwide have abolished the death penalty in law or practice.

The death penalty is increasingly being acknowledged as a severe violation of human rights.  While, as the governor has argued, heinous crimes have been committed in Connecticut, the deliberate killing of a human being is never an appropriate punishment for any crime.  It is inevitable that the world will eventually outlaw this cruel practice, and it is a shame that Connecticut will not pave the way to make that happen.