Connecticut’s House of Representatives voted on April 11 to abolish the death penalty prospectively, which is another way of saying that the General Assembly will not apply its morals and its legal prescriptions to the Connecticut 11, inmates presently awaiting punishment on Death Row.
The abolition bill having passed both houses of the General Assembly, will be made operative upon Governor Dannel Malloy’s signature.
In order to make abolition palatable for wavering politicians, the leaders of the Senate responsible for passing the bill, President Pro-tem Don Williams and Senate Majority Leader Martin Looney, inserted into the legislation a provision that will retain Death Row for prisoners who in the future commit heinous crimes. Death has been abolished, but Death Row lives on. In time, prisoners who have been spared death, courtesy of the moral epigones in the General Assembly, will mingle in the same general space with others sentenced to death whose crimes will be no less heinous.
The prospective abolition bill is the single most cowardly piece of legislation passed in the last half century, and it gives the lie to every argument made in the General Assembly in favor of abolition.
Here is House Majority Leader J. Brendan Sharkey fulminating, just prior to passage, that the death penalty has not eradicated evil:
"Despite having the death penalty in our society here in Connecticut for several hundred years ... it certainly hasn't eradicated evil from our society. If we as human beings created laws that reciprocate the evil that's perpetrated on society, are they really protecting us? ... Our laws more project our better selves."
But in the case of the 11 inmates awaiting execution, the bill approved by Mr. Sharkey visits upon them a reciprocal evil. And we would be no less safe, the pro-repeal forces in the General Assembly have repeatedly assured us, if the sentences of the Connecticut 11 had been commuted to life in prison retrospectively. Mr. Sharkey has yet to share with us the moral precept that justifies a penalty of death for 11 Death Row inmates who are to be executed AFTER the law authorizing execution has been abolished.
Following abolition, national president of the NAACP Benjamin Jealous said, “This vote tonight ... allows Connecticut to break with a centuries-old tradition of executing people and rejoin the rest of the Western world, which has long since cut bait with the death penalty. It also moves our nation forward." But as long as the Connecticut 11are subject to the death penalty, it cannot be said that Connecticut has “moved forward.”
Meeting in Paris in February 2007, the forward looking 3rdWorld Congress Against The Death Penalty pointedly noted that abolition was not nearly enough to satisfy the demands of justice: “We recognize that the process of abolition must be accompanied by a better consideration of the needs of victims and by an in-depth reflection on penal policy and prison systems, in the framework of an equitable and restorative justice… We demand with one voice the end throughout the world of justice that kills. No authority has the right to strike out a person’s life. We recall that the death penalty is a cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, that it is contrary to human rights, that it has no utility in the fight against crime, and that it always represents a failure of justice.”
A death penalty abolition that leaves 11 Death Row inmates subject to execution by no means satisfies the prescriptions of the Paris conference.
Every argument made in the General Assembly in support of prospective death penalty abolition, sufficient or not, applies as well to retrospective abolition. And every argument made by partisan Democrats in Connecticut in support of abolition would apply equally to the FederalDeath Penalty Abolition Act of 2011, a bill co-sponsored by 15 Democratic Representatives. Democratic contenders for congress – most especially Speaker of the House Chris Donovan, who organized support for Connecticut’s death penalty abolition bill -- should be asked in the course of their debates whether they will support the Federal Death Penalty Abolition Act.