By Tanya Greene, Advocacy and Policy Counsel, ACLU Center for Justice
When I was a child, my cousin was brutally murdered. As far as our family knows, the police never found his killer.
A few years later, another cousin of mine was murdered in prison. His killers were in cahoots with his jailers, so none of them was ever prosecuted.
No one received the death penalty for these murders, and as a beloved family member of murder victims, I would never have supported pursuing capital punishment in either case.
As legislators in Connecticut grapple with a bill that would abolish the death penalty in the state, murder victims' families are speaking loudly about their opposition to Connecticut's capital punishment system. There is a tension. On one hand, victims' family members need finality and an end to reliving their loved one's horrible death in the media and the courts. But that kind of finality is not immediate, because the Constitution requires due process, effective counsel, and protection against wrongful conviction for those sentenced to death. The years of legal appeals before an execution extend and exacerbate murder victims' families' suffering.
During a public hearing last month on the pending death penalty abolition bill, the stories of numerous victims' family members had a common theme: in order for the needs of murder victims' family members to be served, the death penalty must be replaced with permanent imprisonment, a more cost-effective alternative that would free up limited state resources for additional services for victims.
Gail Canzano, whose brother-in-law was murdered, explains: "(H)omicide grief is not assuaged by retribution; it is, in fact, worsened. . . The death penalty is a cruel hoax. It accomplishes nothing. It wastes millions of dollars and it further victimizes families who are already broken with grief."
Law enforcement, religious leaders and many others have come together in the state to support eliminating the broken capital punishment system. It is too costly, targets people of color for greater punishment, and mistakes are made. The current bill would replace the death penalty with life in prison with no possibility of release; it would not affect pending cases or previous sentences.
To show your support for abolition of the death penalty in Connecticut, click here.
When a loved one is murdered, the whole world as you know it comes crashing down, never to be the same again. But more killing won't bring the loved one back. It will, however, bring more pain for yet another family.
And I am a firm believer that the murder remains on the conscience of the killer forever — and that is a heavy burden they will never escape.