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Death Penalty Repeal In Doubt; Prague Has Her Own Ideas Of Justice

by Hugh McQuaid | May 11, 2011 4:26pm
(16) Comments | Commenting has expired
Posted to: Courts, Legal, State Capitol

CTNJ File Photos

Rep. Gary Holder-Winfield and Sen. Edith Prague

(UPDATED 9:25 p.m.) A bill to prospectively abolish the death penalty will not be brought to the floor of the Senate for a vote this session, Senate President Pro Tem Don Williams said late Wednesday evening.

“We have a very diverse caucus and diverse opinions on the death penalty,” he explained. “There’s not the support in the caucus to overturn the death penalty.”

Williams said the Senate’s Democratic Caucus has a different composition than it did two years ago when the legislature passed a similar bill, which was then vetoed by former Gov. M. Jodi Rell. He described the group’s discussion on the subject as respectful, but said at the end of the day the votes just weren’t there.

Speculation about the fate of the bill began early Wednesday when Sen. Edith Prague, D-Columbia, said she would not be voting in favor of repeal.

Prague said she recently met with Dr. William Petit, the sole survivor of a brutal 2007 triple-homicide at his Cheshire home. Petit, his sister, and their lawyer urged Prague not to vote for the repeal, as it could become impossible to get a death penalty sentence for the second man accused of murder in that case: Joshua Komisarjevsky.

Prague had strong words for Komisarjevsky.

“They should bypass the trial and take that second animal and hang him by his penis from a tree out in the middle of Main Street,” she said.

Komisarjevksy’s co-defendant, Steven Hayes, was convicted of the crimes last year and sentenced to death, and Petit has been a vocal opponent of attempts to end capital punishment.

Prague indicated she may still support future efforts to abolish the death penalty. But this year, she said, she can’t look Petit in the face and “not give him something that would make his life a little easier.”

The loss of Prague’s vote cast doubt that the bill could clear the Senate. Prior to Prague’s statement, it was expected that the measure would come down to an 18-18 tie vote. In that scenario, Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman would likely have been the tiebreaker in favor of repeal.

But Sen. Andrew Maynard, D-Stonington, who also met with the Petits, agreed with Prague’s position. He said he has not ruled out voting for a future version of the measure.

“It’s a toss-up. I don’t support the death penalty broadly but I don’t support repealing it at this time,” he said. “For my own personal reasons and as a matter of public policy, I don’t think it’s the right way for the state to act. But in this instance there are such mitigating circumstances, in my mind, that I could not in good conscience vote for repeal this year.”

Prior to the decision not to raise the bill in the Senate, its author, Rep. Gary Holder-Winfield, D-New Haven, said he still considered the bill’s passage within the realm of possibility. But he questioned Prague’s decision.

Opponents of repeal frequently point out that if the death penalty is ever abolished, even prospectively, it would serve as a basis for new appeals by everyone on death row.

So if Prague had voted “no” this year and the measure failed, but she then votes for repeal in the future, both Hayes and Komisarjevsky would then have a basis upon which to appeal their sentences, Holder-Winfield said. The nature of that case has been tough even for pro-abolition people, he said, “but you just have to do it and get it done.”

Sen. Edward Meyer, D-Guilford, whose son Jeffrey Meyer is Petit’s lawyer, explained the argument the Petits are presenting to lawmakers.

“The argument they’re making as they meet with individual senators is that defense lawyers in the Komisarjevsky case will emphasize to jurors in the sentencing phase that the state legislature and the governor have repealed the death penalty,” he said. “They will use that as an argument—‘Don’t vote for the death penalty for Komisarjevsky.’”

Sen. Meyer, who supports the repeal, said the argument has been persuasive to some of his colleagues.

Since the measure will not be adopted this year, Holder-Winfield said he likely will take some time to assess his options rather than raise the bill again next year. 
If he waits a few years the emotions generated by the high-profile case may dissipate, he said. On the other hand, the legislature will be different.

“Elections have consequences,” he said, adding that it’s impossible to speculate on the ratio of supporters to opponents three years down the line.

While Holder-Winfield may take time to mull the issue, Kimberly Harrison, a lobbyist for the death penalty repeal campaign, said she will continue her fight. Holder-Winfield, she said, is not the only legislator who can propose repeal legislation.

She said many of the senators she spoke with said that this year is not the right time, and she intends to lobby for repeal during the next session, which likely would be after the conclusion of the Komisarjevsky trial.

“It’s not the answer I was hoping for, but we live to fight another day,” she said.

Following news of the announcement the Connecticut Network to Abolish the Death Penalty issued a press release criticizing the decision.

“CNAD is disappointed the death penalty will remain on the books for another year - continuing to fail victim’s families, continuing to risk sentencing innocent people to death and continuing to waste taxpayer dollars,” said CNADP Executive Director Ben Jones.

Jones went on to say that the decision only delays what he called the inevitable repeal of capital punishment in Connecticut.

Christine Stuart contributed to this report.

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(16) Comments

posted by: Disgruntled | May 11, 2011  5:44pm

I too do not understand the logic.No this year. A possible yes next year.
There will be another Petit-type incident and only carrying out death penalties will insure that animals can’t become repeat offenders.
I like the idea of hanging him by his penis but do it AFTER he is dead.

posted by: GoatBoyPHD | May 11, 2011  7:34pm

GoatBoyPHD

Well. That’s news! Edith likes her men well hung.

posted by: hawkeye | May 11, 2011  8:22pm

Shame on Edith Prague.  She is doing nothing to make Dr. William Petit’s life go a little easier.
Who is she fooling?

Prague should try walking in Dr. Petit’s shoes, but perhaps senility is starting to set in?

posted by: apappala | May 11, 2011  10:39pm

You GO, Edith!

posted by: Frankly | May 12, 2011  4:59am

The death penalty is cruel and barbaric, and is no longer practiced in the civilized world.  It is an embarrassment that the United States still uses this method which is meted out unfairly (as study after study proves).  Gary Holder-Winfield is correct to be advocating the bill; it will pass eventually.

posted by: Specter | May 12, 2011  7:16am

“They should bypass the trial and take that second animal and hang him by his penis from a tree out in the middle of Main Street,” she said.

While I believe that Komisarjevsky will get what he deserves - and hope that he does, this comment by Ms. Prague proves more than ever that she doesn’t deserve to be in public office. Whether or not we hate Komisarjevsky, the fact is that the basic framework of our laws in this country guarantee him his day in court. To suggest that he not be allowed such a day shows the lady has no idea that we have a Constitution (state and federal). And her method? Talk about cruel and unusual punishment. Time for this lady to be removed from office.

posted by: FreeJeffMacD | May 12, 2011  8:50am

Thank you, Edith Prague.

posted by: Noteworthy | May 12, 2011  9:38am

Props go to Edith. In the future I hope she will amend the law so we can actually fulfill the death penalty and not abolish it. To do so will only fulfill the fantasies of the liberals who would shove this down our throats in order to protect the murdering and torturing few who would terrorize the public.

posted by: redlady | May 12, 2011  12:45pm

Certainly, Edith’s views would not portray a liberal waffling about like a fish out of water!

First, why would a lawmaker refuse to pass a bill that clearly is along her normal political line, then turn around and vote to pass it in the next year? What of other future victim families plight? Don’t they count as much as Mr. Petit?

Second, why would a lawmaker (who should understand the basic Constitutional rights), suggest someone should be punished before they stood trial?

Clearly, this is a fine example of the mentality of our senior lawmakers in Hartford - and is dang scary!

posted by: robn | May 12, 2011  12:58pm

I would be curious if Sen. Prague, who has relegated Mr. Komisarjevksy to non-human animal status, would be willing to cook and eat his body after his execution? (assuming she isn’t a vegetarian) If not, why?

posted by: David Streever | May 12, 2011  1:58pm

Vengeance is not justice, and as a legislator, she should be aware that there is no assumption of guilt, only of innocence.

How can she call to cancel the trial? What type of society would she have us all live in?

posted by: hawkeye | May 12, 2011  8:44pm

Sen. Edith Prague isn’t the only idiot in our Connecticut General Assembly. The terrible record of our lawmakers—speaks for itself!
No one to blame for them, but ourselves—as we vote these fools into office - to bury us!

posted by: THREEFIFTHS | May 12, 2011  9:21pm

posted by: streever | May 12, 2011 1:58pmVengeance is not justice, and as a legislator, she should be aware that there is no assumption of guilt, only of innocence.
How can she call to cancel the trial? What type of society would she have us all live in?

Would you let this guy move in with you.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5uhmtAmwnDQ

posted by: eastrivertype | May 13, 2011  2:17pm

Is anyone really surprised at Edith’s statement?  As usual, Edith Prague lends nothing substantive to the debate other than great fodder for the news.  What an embarrassment.
Time to go home Edith.

posted by: DrHunterSThompson | May 14, 2011  5:33pm

all this tells us is that Edith is not for real.

either you are against or for the death penalty.  there is always another heinous crime.

posted by: hawkeye | May 15, 2011  8:55pm

Hanging someone by his penus, must be a a woman’s terminology—as guys would “hang someone by his balls!”