Senate's (qualified) profile in courage

We applaud the courage of 20 state senators Thursday to vote their convictions in approving a repeal of the death penalty. These senators know that public opinion polls show a majority of voters continue to support state executions, but they did what they thought was right and we agree with them. The state senators representing the region, all Democrats, supported repeal: Edith Prague, Andrew Maynard, Andrea Stillman and Eileen Daily.

It now seems only a matter of time for Connecticut's death penalty law to pass into history. Approval in the House appears certain and a vote could come within a week. When he was campaigning for office in 2010, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy made it clear he would sign a death penalty repeal bill if given the chance.

As a newspaper that has long advocated for ending the practice of state-sanctioned executions, The Day is glad to see Connecticut about to join 16 other states and the vast majority of democracies in concluding that blood revenge has no place in civilized society. In the past five years, four other states have abolished the death penalty - New Mexico, Illinois, New Jersey and New York. That's an encouraging trend.

As an alternative to the death penalty, those convicted of heinous murders would be sentenced to a life of imprisonment without possibility of parole. This extracts a severe penalty, some might argue more severe than death, while protecting society and not lowering our institutions to the killer's level.

In many ways the state's death penalty has been a lie. Family members of murder victims may anticipate satisfaction in seeing the ultimate retribution carried out, but in reality the pursuit of a death sentence only prolongs the legal process and the associated anguish through endless appeals. One man, serial killer Michael Ross, has been executed under the current law, in 2005, and apparently because he wanted to die, fighting not to continue his appeals.

Some complain about the cost of keeping murder convicts confined, but the facts show that the cost of prolonged appellate litigation in death penalty cases exceeds the cost of life imprisonment. Meanwhile, repeated studies have failed to prove that the threat of a death sentence is a greater deterrent than life without parole.

Additionally, death is the only penalty that leaves no opportunity to correct a mistaken conviction.

This repeal comes with a qualification. Theoretically, it only applies to murderers convicted going forward, leaving unchanged the sentences of the 11 men now on death row. We don't understand this moral contradiction. Either an individual considers execution morally wrong or not. It smacks more of political slight of hand than logical law making, an effort to appease the public and families of past murder victims.

In reality, once this law passes, it is highly unlikely the courts will approve the execution of any of the 11. And we suspect the senators who voted in favor know that.

"I think you need to know when you're considering your votes on this what's real and what's not. What this law would do would create two classes of people. One class would be subject to the death penalty; the other class would not, and that would not be because of the nature of the crime or the nature of the defendant - it would be because of the date on which the crime occurred," said Chief State's Attorney Kevin Kane, the state's top prosecutor, in his testimony to the legislature.

That kind of arbitrary distinction, Mr. Kane told lawmakers, would be extremely unlikely to hold up on appeal.

When it comes to gathering up enough votes, sometimes such a fig leaf is required. So be it. It's a small concession to make to end the media circus that surrounds death penalty trials, the endless appeals, the pain of making families relive the crime over and over, the empty promises that revenge will bring relief and "closure."

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