For the past several years, the Connecticut General Assembly has considered bills to abolish the state death penalty. For one reason or another, the bills have failed. But this year’s series of bills, for good or bad, have garnered new interest because they come in the shadow of the legal proceedings in the Cheshire home invasion case. The hearing yesterday on the bills to abolish the death penalty in favor of life in prison without the possibility of parole was nothing short of riveting.
Dr. Williams Petit, the sole survivor in the Cheshire case in which his family was brutalized and murdered, again showed amazing courage as he testified in favor of a bill that would allow victim impact statements to the sentencing jury in capital cases. Every time Dr. Petit talks about his family and the case, it evokes feelings ranging from nausea to tears.
Chief State’s Attorney Kevin Kane testified that abolishing the death penalty prospectively—assuming it can be done—would create two classes of offenders—one subject to the death penalty and one that it not. And it would be based not on the nature of the crime but on the date the offense occurred.
Attorney Barry Scheck, he of the O.J. Simpson case fame and founder of the Innocence Project, testified about the potential problems with the death penalty in general. The Innocence Project has exonerated several men who were on death row but later proven to be innocent.