Democratic State Senators to Tour Death Row to Help Them Decide on Repeal Issue

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Three Democrats in the state Senate who are undecided on repealing the death penalty, plan to tour death row at the Northern Correctional Institution to help them make up their minds, according to one of the senators. However, as of now, it won’t matter where the three come down on the hot-button issue because there are 18 votes for repeal without them, The Hanging Shad has learned.

State Sens. Joe Crisco (D-Woodbridge), Carlo Leone (D-Stamford) and Edith Prague (D-Columbia) met with their caucus leadership Thursday. The result of the meeting was that Senate President Don Williams agreed to contact Department of Corrections Commissioner Leo Arnone to arrange the visit.

Prague says she is struggling with how she would vote. “I’m agonizing over this,” said Prague. “We’re going to Northern to see what [death row] is like.” When asked whether she thought it was a dangerous trip, Prague said. “I think it’s important that we go.” Prague says she will also attend the Judiciary Committee’s public hearing on the issue which has not yet been scheduled. The trip to Northern’s death row is also yet to be scheduled.

Prague played a key role in the death penalty repeal bill not coming to the Senate floor last session. She and state Sen. Andrew Maynard (D-Stonington) would not vote in favor of repeal because it was raised at the time of the trial of one of the accused in the gruesome Cheshire home invasion murders. The pair deferred to Dr. William Petit, the lone survivor of the attack, who has been vocal in opposition to repealing capital punishment.

For his part, Maynard says this time around, the timing is better. “I’m inclined to support repeal,” he said. If he ultimately does vote for repeal, it would not be a change in his position. He has consistently opposed capital punishment. He just didn’t think last year was the time. For the current bill raised in committee, he says he still needs more information. “I say I am ‘inclined’ to support it because I need a more in-depth legal opinion about the prospective nature of the bill than I have gotten so far.” The bill under consideration would apply only to cases going forward and not to people currently on death row, including the two murderers in the Cheshire case. They would still be put to death.

There is question as to whether the prospective element of the bill would violate the equal protection clause in the Fourteenth Amendment. However, Gov. Dannel Malloy is on record as saying he would sign a repeal bill only if it was prospective. Signing a retroactive repeal would clearly present political problems for Malloy because it would mean life in prison without parole for those now on death row.

As of now, if a bill repealing the death penalty made it to the state Senate, it would pass with 18 votes, even without Crisco, Leone and Prague. Republican state Sen. Andrew Roraback (R-Goshen) has said he would join the Democrats voting for repeal.

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