Repeal was right

Advocates for justice won a victory last week when the General Assembly passed a repeal of the state’s death penalty.

This repeal followed the lead of the State Senate which took action earlier this month to end capital punishment. This is a far overdue step and a victory for justice over emotion. While we want to be able to provide some kind of and sense of justice to the families of victims of violent crimes, vengeance is not the answer.

State sponsored murder should not be happening in America and Connecticut’s actions are overdue. We credit State Rep. Lile Gibbons for making a courageous vote and breaking away from her fellow Republican caucus members to repeal capital punishment even as we understand why the others did not.

Questions remain however about what will happen next. The law specifically does not commute current sentences so the 11 people currently on death row will remain there. Will their lawyers be able to successfully get their sentences reduced to life imprisonment with no possibility of parole? We hope so and not because of any sympathy for convicted murderers, but because the state putting people to death, no matter how heinous their crimes, is wrong.

This was not an easy vote to make for any of the legislators. Even the ones we disagree with on this issue spoke from true belief about why they could not support the repeal. It is fortunate that this issue did not become an opportunity for political grandstanding and partisan points being scored. It is an issue that deserved a full and honest debate and that’s what it received.

Hearing the testimony of victims and people who lost loved ones to violent crime will have an impact on your feelings. It is impossible to be so locked down in opposition to the death penalty that you can’t be moved by the feelings of State Rep. Larry Butler, a Democrat, whose brother was murdered, or by Dr. William Petit, whose wife and daughters were brutally murdered by home invaders who now sit on death row. Hearing about the savagery of the Petit killings makes a person look into the bleakness of mankind and wonder how human beings can inflict that kind of suffering on others. But what separates the great many of us from violent criminal scum, is that we place value in human life.

The death penalty is a punishment that belongs to a time of the stockades. It has no place in a modern society and we hope this is the beginning of a real discussion in this state about prison reform where conditions and sentencing are looked at in an even-handed calm discussion. America continues to grow as a society and we need to leave calls for vengeance behind us and instead embrace true justice.

Connecticut has done the right thing here but let’s not stop. Taking a look at our laws and reforming what is outdated and making sure prison conditions do not make things worse is the next logical step. We are moving on as a society and we need our political leaders to move with us.

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