HARTFORD, Connecticut (Reuters) - The Connecticut Senate voted on Thursday to repeal the state's death penalty, moving it one step closer to becoming the fifth U.S. state in five years to abandon capital punishment.
The Democratic-controlled Senate voted 20-16 to repeal the death penalty in an early morning vote after 10 hours of debate, and the measure now moves to the state House of Representatives, where it was seen as having strong support.
Democratic Governor Dannel Malloy has promised to sign the bill into law.
The measure would replace the death penalty with life in prison without the possibility of parole. An amendment added on Tuesday provided that future felons, convicted of life sentences without parole, would be subject to the same harsh conditions as those inmates currently on Death Row.
"Does a moral society execute people?" asked Democratic state Senator Gayle Slossberg on the day of the vote. "Haven't we then become the evil we're trying to eliminate? I want my public policy to be better than me."
But the bill to repeal the death penalty is "prospective," meaning that it would only apply to future sentences. The 11 men currently on Connecticut's Death Row would still face execution.
Several legal experts have said that despite the "prospective" wording, defense attorneys for current Death Row inmates could use the repeal measure to win life sentences for their clients.
Illinois, New Mexico and New Jersey have all voted to abolish the death penalty in recent years, while New York's death penalty law was declared unconstitutional in 2004. That state's legislature has repeatedly rejected attempts to reinstate capital punishment.
Other state legislatures are considering bills to abolish the death penalty as well, and Oregon's governor has said he would allow no more executions on his watch.
"As significant concerns about executing the innocent, the high cost of the death penalty and its unfair application continue to grow, more states are turning to alternative punishments," said Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center.
A similar bill was defeated last year in Connecticut, just as the high-profile trial of Joshua Komisarjevsky was getting underway for his role in a 2007 home invasion in Cheshire in which a mother and her two daughters were brutalized and killed.
Komisarjevsky and another man are now on Death Row for the murders. The only survivor of the Cheshire attack, Dr. William Petit Jr. - the husband of the murdered woman and the father of the murdered girls - has spoken out against repeal.
Republican State Senator Leonard Fasano of East Haven said he opposed the bill, saying it denies justice to the families of murder victims.
"I would rather tell those two guys (Komisarjevsky and his accomplice) they are going to die rather than tell Dr. Petit they won't die," he said.
Connecticut has executed only one person, in 2005, since the death penalty was reinstated in the United States in 1976, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. The man executed, Michael Ross, had abandoned his appeals.
Reporting By Mary Ellen Godin; Editing by Cynthia Johnston