When New Jersey abolished the death penalty in 2007 and New Mexico did in 2009, each did so with the support of co-victims. In Connecticut, the Legislature’s joint Judiciary Committee has now approved a bill that would repeal that state’s death penalty, again with the support of victims’ families.
The family members say that rather than providing emotional closure, the long appeals process in death penalty cases is actually prolonging their suffering. They also say it wastes money and unjustifiably elevates some murders above others in importance. In an open letter to the Connecticut Legislature, relatives of murder victims — 76 parents, children and others — wrote that “the death penalty, rather than preventing violence, only perpetuates it and inflicts further pain on survivors.”
Their arguments were a moving and effective part of the effort that led to the committee’s repeal vote. Now Connecticut’s leaders need to bring these arguments to a wider state audience. A March opinion poll in Connecticut showed that 48 percent of residents favored the death penalty over life without parole, up from 37 percent in 2005.
The increase is not surprising, since news in the state has been dominated by the trials of the murderers in the 2007 home invasion killings in Cheshire. Dr. William Petit Jr., who lost his wife and two children, is an outspoken advocate for the death penalty, arguing that vicious killers should pay with their lives.
We do not minimize the suffering of family members, wherever they stand on the issue. But the facts are undeniable. The death penalty does not deter crime and the long history of legal abuses is well documented. Connecticut’s full Legislature should pass the repeal bill and Gov. Dannel Malloy should sign it into law.