April 4, 2012 — -- Connecticut state senators are expected to vote on a controversial death penalty repeal bill today, with family members of murder victims at odds about whether the bill should move forward or not.
The proposed bill would replace the death penalty with a sentence of life without parole. It would abolish the death penalty for future cases, but would not affect sentences for the 11 inmate's currently on death row in the state.
One of the strongest voices against repealing the death penalty has been Dr. William Petit Jr., the lone survivor of a 2007 Cheshire home invasion that resulted in the brutal murders of his wife and two daughters. The two men convicted of the crime, Joshua Komisarjevsky and Steven Hayes, are currently on death row.
Republican minority Leader John McKinney joined with other lawmakers, Petit and the family members of other murder victims to denounce the repeal bill at a news conference.
"We believe in the death penalty because we believe it is really the only true just punishment for certain heinous and depraved murders,'' Petit said.
Senate Democrats also gathered this morning in Connecticut to unveil an amendment to a bill that requires harsher sentences for those convicted of "murder with special circumstances."
Majority leader Martin Looney, New Haven-D, and Donald Williams, Brooklyn-D, said inmates in this tougher program would face conditions similar to those of current death row inmates.
Petit does not believe this type of amendment would be enough.
"There is no such thing as closure when your loved one is savagely taken from you," Petit -- along with his sister Johanna Petit Chapman -- wrote in a statement to the New Haven Register in March. "There can, however, be adequate and just punishment and that is the death penalty."
Family members of other murder victims have united to support the repeal. About 100 relatives of victims signed a letter of support for abolishing the death penalty.
"The death penalty, rather than preventing violence, only perpetuates it and inflicts further pain on survivors," the letter reads. "The reality of the death penalty is that is drags out the legal process for decades. In Connecticut, the death penalty is a false promise that goes unfulfilled, leaving victims' families frustrated and angry after years of fighting the legal system."
The letter argues that the money spent on the "broken system" could be better used supporting victims' services.
"At a moment none of us could have predicted or prepared for, tragedy robbed us from children, parents, spouses, brothers and sisters, and other family members," the letter says. "Our direct experiences with the criminal justice system and struggling with grief have led us to all the same conclusion: Connecticut's death penalty fails victims' families."
In the past 40 years, Connecticut has executed one person. In 2005, serial killer Michael Ross, 45, was executed for killing four Connecticut women in the 1980s.
Democrats have said they are optimistic the bill will pass, but Minority Leader John McKinney has expressed doubts. If the bill does make it past the state's House of Republicans, Democratic Gov. Dannel Malloy has said in the past that he would sign and abolish the death penalty.
If Connecticut abolishes the death penalty, they would join New Jersey, New Mexico and Illinois as states that have done so in the past few years.