After years of failed attempts to repeal the death penalty, Connecticut lawmakers have passed legislation that abolishes the punishment for all future cases.
As expected, members of the House of Representatives voted in favour of the bill, 86 to 62, after a floor debate that lasted nearly 10 hours on Wednesday.
The legislation, which would make Connecticut the 17th state to abolish the death penalty, awaits a signature from Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, who has said he would sign the bill into law.
"Going forward, we will have a system that allows us to put these people away for life, in living conditions none of us would want to experience," the Democratic governor said in a statement following the vote. "Let's throw away the key and have them spend the rest of their natural lives in jail."
The bill would abolish the death penalty and replace it with a sentence of life imprisonment without the possibility of release.
U.S. repeal efforts gather steam
In the past five years, four other states have abolished the death penalty — New Mexico, Illinois, New Jersey and New York.
Repeal proposals are also pending in several other states including Kansas and Kentucky, while advocates in California have gathered enough signatures for an initiative to throw out the death penalty that is expected to go before voters in November.
Connecticut has carried out only one execution in 51 years, when serial killer Michael Ross was administered lethal injection in 2005 after giving up his appeal rights.
Lawmakers were able to garner support by making the legislation affect only future crimes and not the 11 men currently on death row. Some bill opponents, however, have called this move a political tool.
"It's tough to explain (the bill) to a four year old and it's tough to explain to a 40-year-old or a 94-year-old because to many it is illogical and does not make sense," said House Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero Jr., a Republican. "In terms of the bill we're about to vote on, we allow the death penalty to continue for at least 11 people and maybe more."
Democratic Rep. Gerald Fox III, co-chair of the General Assembly's joint Judiciary Committee, said he was pleased to see the bill pass after working for years to repeal the death penalty.
Repeal bill champion Rep. Gary Holder-Winfield, a Democrat, said although he is pleased with the results of the vote, more needs to be done to fix the state's criminal justice system.
Preserving the death sentence of those still on death row is fairly unusual, although a similar law took effect in New Mexico. The governor there declined to commute the sentences of the state's two death row inmates after the repeal was signed in 2009.
Connecticut has a history of making changes to the death penalty prospective, said Fox. He said in 1846, the state created distinctions between first- and second-degree murders. Prior to that change, all murders were punishable by death.
In 1951, a law was passed allowing a jury to determine whether to impose death or life in prison for a first-degree murder. That law, Fox said, was ultimately upheld by the State Supreme Court.
Both advocates and opponents of the repeal bill predicted the repeal would ultimately become law.