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Gov. Dannel P. Malloy quietly signed a new law Wednesday that ends the state's death penalty for future crimes, making Connecticut the 17th state to abolish capital punishment.
The Democrat signed the bill behind closed doors, without fanfare. An aide said Malloy was surrounded by lawmakers, clergy and family members of murder victims.
While he called it "an historic moment," Malloy said in a written statement that it was a moment "for sober reflection, not celebration."
The bill, which became effective immediately, was signed on the same day that a new Quinnipiac University Poll showed that 62 percent of registered voters in Connecticut still favor the death penalty for those convicted of murder. The same survey found 47 percent of voters disapprove of Malloy's handling of the issue, while 33 percent approve.
"Many of us who have advocated for this position over the years have said there is a moral component to our opposition to the death penalty. For me, that is certainly the case," he said. "But that does not mean — nor should it mean — that we question the morality of those who favor capital punishment. I certainly don't."
Amnesty International USA praised Malloy for signing the bill. Connecticut joins 16 other states and the District of Columbia.
"Lawmakers in Connecticut finally saw the death penalty for what it is — a barbaric and irreversible punishment that does nothing to stop crime nor its victims," said Suzanne Nossel, the organization's executive director, who credited the family members of murder victims for supporting the legislation and working to get the bill passed.
A former prosecutor, Malloy said he used to support the death penalty but his position evolved over the years.
"I learned firsthand that our system of justice is very imperfect," he said, adding how he saw people who were poorly served by their lawyers, wrongly accused or mistakenly identified, as well as discriminated against.
"In bearing witness to those things, I came to believe that doing away with the death penalty was the only way to ensure it would not be unfairly imposed," Malloy said.
Earlier this month, the Democratic-controlled General Assembly passed legislation repealing the death penalty for only future crimes and not the 11 men currently on Connecticut's death row. The legislation requires that people convicted under the new law would be subject to prison conditions similar to those now experienced by condemned inmates.
Opponents of the repeal legislation included Dr. William Petit Jr., the only survivor of a 2007 home invasion in which two paroled burglars killed his wife and two daughters. Last year, Petit successfully lobbied state senators to hold off on repeal legislation while one of the two killers was still facing a death penalty trial.
State Rep. Al Adinolfi, R-Cheshire, who lives in the Petits' old neighborhood, said he was disappointed the state is showing sympathy for convicted murderers, and not for the victims and their families, by repealing the death penalty.
"Murderers in prison now for life without the possibility of parole will have nothing to lose by assaulting or killing a prison guard or another inmate. They know the death penalty is no longer an option to hold over their head," said Adinolfi, who vowed to try and reinstate the death penalty. Instead, he said, murderers will get free state health care, recreational activities and meals for life.
In more than half a century, Connecticut has executed only one person — serial killer Michael Ross, who volunteered for the lethal injection in 2005.
The Quinnipiac Poll also showed that 51 percent of voters disapprove of the legislature's handling of the issue, compared to 29 percent who approve. Asked, however, about which type of punishment they prefer for convicted murderers — the death penalty or life in prison without chance of parole — registered voters were split, 46 percent to 46 percent.
The telephone survey of 1,745 voters has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 2.4 percentage points.
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