"I cannot stand the thought of being responsible for somebody being falsely accused and facing the death penalty," said Sen. Edith Prague, D-Columbia. "For me, this is a moral issue and realizing that mistakes are obviously made."
A Connecticut state Innocence Project that began reviewing cases in 2005 with new DNA technology has yielded several high-profile exonerations.
Kevin Ireland served 20 years in prison for the 1986 murder of a mother of four in Wallingford, but was freed in 2009 on the basis of DNA tests. Another man was sentenced last month to 60 years in prison for the killing. In another case, Miguel Roman served two decades behind bars for killing his pregnant teenage girlfriend in Hartford in1988, only to be freed in 2008 because of DNA evidence. Neither man had faced the death penalty.
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.
Judges, lawyers and victims' families have blamed foot-dragging by the courts and lawyers and the complexity of the appeal system for delays in executing others. Of the 11 men on Connecticut's death row, three have been awaiting execution for more than two decades and two others have been on death row for at least 12 years. By comparison, the average time between conviction and execution in Texas is 10 1/2 years.
Thursday's vote occurred after a debate that lasted more than 10 hours and focused largely on whether death row inmates like Joshua Komisarjevsky and Steven Hayes, convicted in the Cheshire home invasion, could be helped by the law. Critics said they were concerned attorneys would use the law change as grounds for throwing out the sentence in the future.
"For those who say we should execute those 11, but none going further, the only way to keep that promise, the only way to keep that promise, is to keep our death penalty law," said Senate Minority Leader John McKinney, R-Fairfield, who opposes the repeal.
Preserving the death sentence of those still on death row is fairly unusual, although a similar law took effect in New Mexico. The governor declined to commute the sentences of the state's two men on death row after the repeal was signed in 2009.
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