Death penalty repeal strikes nerve for local legislators

State Rep. David Labriola (R-131).

HARTFORD — Connecticut’s House of Representatives passed a bill to repeal capitol punishment by a vote of 86-62 last week.

Repealing the death penalty has struck a chord with a lot of people, including local representatives.

“I believe some crimes are so heinous, so vicious that the only just punishment is capitol punishment,” state Rep. David Labriola (R-131) said.

The bill has passed the state Senate and House. Gov. Dannel Malloy has said he will sign the bill, which would make Connecticut the 17th state to abolish the death penalty. The bill will only abolish the death penalty for future crimes. Inmates on death row still face death.

Labriola said he has consistently voted against repeal of the death penalty. He was among those who voted against it in the House last week.

State representatives Len Greene (R-105) and Rosa Rebimbas (R-70) also voted against the bill.

“There are, in my opinion, certain crimes which warrant the gravest of penalties, and there is no graver penalty than that of execution,” said Greene in a press release.

Rebimbas declined to comment.

Labriola was concerned with what would happen to the 11 people already on death row in the face of the repeal of the death penalty.

“This notion that the bill would be prospective … is a fraud on the people. You can’t have it both ways,” Labriola said.

Labriola felt the prisoners on death row would be able to challenge the constitutionality of remaining on death row.

One of the arguments for them being released from death row to life in prison is that if they were to commit the exact same crime now, they would not be on death row.

Labriola felt it was hypocritical of Malloy to say that the inmates would still face the death penalty after this bill was passed.

“It is utterly false that the people on death row will be executed. They will automatically have their sentences reversed,” Labriola said.

While waiting to vote, Greene thought about how he felt and how the people he represented felt about this issue.

“After a great deal of reflection, and after speaking with many of my constituents and my family, I made the difficult decision to vote against repealing the death penalty. This decision did not come easy for me due to the gravity of the issue, but I do believe that the death penalty is workable and does serve a purpose in our criminal justice system,” said Greene.

State Rep. Len Greene (R-105).

Both Greene and Labriola were concerned with the safety of the correction officers who work in the prison and other prisoners, who are kept with those that would be on death row.

Greene and Labriola pointed out that the repeal of the death penalty meant that there was one less reason for prisoners not to commit violent crimes while incarcerated.

Greene found fault with the argument that the death penalty doesn’t help prevent crime.

“While the death penalty has been questioned as to its viability as a deterrent for crime, I strongly disagree. If the penalty can alter the decisions that lead to even one crime against an innocent victim, then it should remain,” Greene said.

Labriola felt that the notion that the death penalty was more expensive than life in prison was a false one. He said that a defendant facing life in prison without parole would fight as hard for an appeal as someone who was facing the death penalty.

The two also agreed that the repeal of the death penalty was going to be difficult on the families of victims.

Greene was concerned the new bill will reopen the pain and suffering of the families if new trials are granted.

“It’s a slap in the face to the victims’ families,” Labriola said.

Labriola added the death penalty was important to the state because it gave prosecutors leverage when dealing with a difficult situation.

“Defendants will plead guilty to life without parole when they know there is a death penalty,” Labriola said.

In the end, for Greene, it came down to providing safety for citizens.

“Maintaining the highest level of public safety and providing an appropriate level of justice in our society are two of the most important responsibilities that I have as a state official, and I believe that by repealing the death penalty we are not fulfilling our responsibilities,” Greene said.

State Rep. Vickie Nardello (D-89) voted in favor of repealing the death penalty. She could not be reached for comment.