Death penalty vote may be today in Senate

Connecticut religious leaders who oppose the death penalty stop for a prayer during a march to the state Capitol for a rally in favor of repealing the punishment in Hartford on Tuesday. Connecticut legislators are considering a bill that would abolish the state death penalty for future cases and replace it with life imprisonment.

Hartford - The state Senate is set to vote today on a bill that would abolish the death penalty in Connecticut for future crimes.

While pro-repeal senators were tight-lipped Tuesday as to their expectations for the outcome, a source close to the matter said, "We would only move forward if we had the votes. So we're moving forward."

The 36-member Senate has been the biggest obstacle for death penalty opponents since last year when Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, a Democrat who said he would sign a repeal bill, took office. Former Republican Gov. M. Jodi Rell vetoed a 2009 repeal bill that had passed both General Assembly chambers.

The current repeal bill is a "prospective" measure, meaning that would not apply to the 11 convicts already on death row, including the two men who committed the 2007 Cheshire home-invasion murders.

However, some legal experts predict that a prospective ban on capital punishment would result in successful court appeals by death row inmates that overturn their sentences.

A similar bill never came up for a vote last year after two Democratic senators, Edith Prague of Columbia and Andrew Maynard of Stonington, changed their minds about ending the death penalty after meetings with Dr. William Petit Jr., the sole survivor of the Cheshire triple slaying.

The willingness of Senate Pro Tem Donald Williams, D-Brooklyn, to bring out the bill today may indicate that several senators have flipped their votes from nay to yea.

Maynard says he is back in the repeal column, and Prague is said to be leaning heavily that way, too. Democratic Senators Carlo Leone of Stamford and Joseph Crisco of Woodbridge also are said to be considering a switch to repeal.

Republican Sen. Andrew Roraback, R-Goshen, who is running to replace U.S. Rep. Chris Murphy in the 5th District, previously favored ending the death penalty, but now says his vote depends on whether the legislature scales back the state's good behavior credits program that lets inmates leave prison early.

Senate Minority Leader John McKinney, R-Fairfield, who wants to keep the death penalty, said he's disappointed in the Democratic senators who are changing their minds.

"By my count, there are as many as three Democrat state senators who have switched their vote on the death penalty," McKinney said. "Senators who voted for the death penalty, who campaigned as supporters of the death penalty, and for reasons they have not yet explained, have decided to switch their position."

Prague did not return messages Tuesday seeking comment.

Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman, a Democrat, says she would cast a tie-breaking vote in the Senate to end the death penalty if necessary.

j.reindl@theday.com

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