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Despite being passed by the Connecticut House of Representatives and State Senate, Gov. M. Jodi Rell plans to veto a bill that would have abolished the death penalty in the state, an issue that has become a hot-button topic for local officials.
Rell issued a statement on May 22 stating that she would “veto this bill as soon as it hits my desk.” If it were not vetoed, the death penalty would be abolished and replaced with a maximum life sentence without the possibility of parole.
Locally, Cheshire’s elected delegation was split on the bill. In the House of Representatives, where the bill was passed 90-56 on May 13, Representatives Elizabeth Esty (D-103) and Vickie Nardello (D-89) voted in favor of abolishing the death penalty. State Rep. Mary Fritz (D-90) voted against the bill.
In the State Senate, the bill passed by a narrow margin of 19-17, and both Senators Sam Caligiuri (R-13) and Thomas Gaffey (D-16) voted against it. Gaffey was one of six Senate Democrats to vote against the bill.
Rell issued her statement hours after the bill passed the Senate at approximately 4 a.m. on May 22. Rell said she appreciates the “passionate beliefs of people on both sides of the death penalty debate,” but felt that the death penalty is appropriate in some cases.
“I fully understand the concerns and deeply held convictions of those who would like to see the death penalty abolished in Connecticut,” Rell said. “However, I also fully understand the anguish and outrage of the families of victims who believe, as I do, that there are certain crimes so heinous, so fundamentally revolting to our humanity, that the death penalty is warranted.”
Esty explained earlier this week that, “as a matter of faith, I cannot support state executions.” She said she has believed, and still believes, that “killing is morally wrong” and felt her stance was “not due to any concern for the criminals” but rather based on what she believes it “does to us as a community when the state kills in all of our names.”
“I respect and understand those who do not share my view, including members of my own family,” Esty said. “Those differences should not stand in the way of the important work to be done to keep us all safer, and I hope that we can agree to work hard together on our shared commitment to public safety.”
There are currently 10 men on death row in Connecticut, with only one person having been executed in Connecticut in the past 49 years. Convicted serial killer Michael Ross was executed in 2005.
For their suspected roles in the triple homicide committed in Cheshire in July 2007, Joshua Komisarjevsky and Steven Hayes await trial. New Haven State’s Attorney Michael Dearington vowed from the onset of the case to seek the death penalty for the two suspects. Dr. William A. Petit, Jr., whose wife, Jennifer, and two daughters, Hayley and Michaela, were murdered nearly two years ago, wrote a letter to the State Legislature, where he said he was “deeply saddened” by the recent vote, saying the state has “walked away from justice.”
“There are heinous murderers who have forfeited their rights to continue to live among us,” Petit said. “These legislators seem far more interested in the murderers than the law-abiding citizens of the state.”
In a May 28 Quinnipiac University poll, nearly 61 percent of the 1,575 residents polled believed the state should keep the death penalty.
“Gov. Rell has said that she intends to veto the bill to abolish the death penalty and public opinion is on her side,” said Quinnipiac University Poll Director Douglas Schwartz, PhD.
Esty said she has “nothing but the greatest respect” for Petit and could not “begin to fathom his grief and justifiable anger.” She said what happened in Cheshire nearly two years ago was “in every sense of the word, evil.”
“The nightmare that happened in our community sorely tested my beliefs, but did not change them,” Esty said. “I hope that the people of Cheshire understand that I cannot and will not abandon my religious opposition to the death penalty because my beliefs are unpopular in our district or the state.”
Petit said the death penalty should only be used in certain cases where “no doubt is left and where there is conclusive evidence” and believed the Legislature lacked courage in its vote.
“All I can say is that it is a very sad day to be a citizen of the state of Connecticut, as we are represented by people who do not have the courage to stand up for what is right and what is justice,” Petit said. “Do not listen when these people say they did this for victims. They did not do this for victims, they did it for themselves and their inability to make a difficult decision and stand up for what is right and just.”