Rell vows to preserve death penalty

May 22, 2009 5:31:51 PM PDT
Connecticut Gov. Jodi Rell vowed Friday to veto a newly approved bill banning the death penalty as soon as she receives it, saying capital punishment is appropriate for certain heinous crimes. The measure, approved early Friday by the state Senate and last week by the House of Representatives, would replace capital punishment with life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Even some of the most ardent supporters of the repeal said Friday that overriding Rell's promised veto would be impossible.

At least two-thirds of each chamber's members in the Democrat-led General Assembly would have to vote to override. But that margin is unlikely given the tight 19-17 vote in the Senate and 90-56 tally in the House.

"There's no sense that an override effort would even be undertaken," said state Sen. Andrew McDonald, D-Stamford, one of the measure's main supporters. "I still think the legislature made a tremendous step forward. The governor's promise of a veto was not entirely unexpected, but it's nonetheless unfortunate."

Rell, a Republican, said Friday that while she understands the "passionate beliefs of people on both sides" of the debate, she will veto the measure "as soon as it hits my desk."

"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," she said.

It wasn't immediately clear when the bill would be sent to Rell's office.

Dr. William Petit, the lone survivor of a 2007 Chesire home invasion in which his wife and two daughters were killed, said Friday that legislators "walked away from justice" with their votes to repeal the death penalty.

"These are heinous murderers who have forfeited their rights to continue to live among us," Petit said of death row inmates. "It always was and always will be a deterrent for one simple reason: the executed person can never kill again."

Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty against two men charged in the Petit case, which drew national headlines and was cited frequently during the capitol felony debates.

New Jersey and New Mexico are the only states that have abolished the death penalty since the U.S. Supreme Court allowed states to reinstate capital punishment in 1976. Thirty-five states have death penalty laws, although some have not executed a prisoner in decades.

There are 10 men on Connecticut's death row, and the Office of the Chief Public Defender says prosecutors are seeking the death penalty in almost 50 other cases currently pending in the state.

Connecticut's first execution in decades occurred on May 13, 2005, when serial killer Michael Ross was put to death by lethal injection after he willingly halted his appeals. It was the state's and New England's first execution since 1960.

A 2007 Quinnipiac University survey of Connecticut voters found that 63 percent supported capital punishment for convicted murderers, while 27 percent opposed it.

Several murder victims' relatives support the ban, saying state-sanctioned executions of convicted murderers do not compensate for their losses.

"We know the death penalty never provides any closure for any family member, no matter what prosecutors tell us," said the Rev. Walter Everett, whose son Scott was killed in Bridgeport in 1987.

"People wait for 15 or 20 years for an execution, and then after it occurs they say, 'Why don't I feel better?" We know it's never going to make a difference - it doesn't bring a loved one back," he said.