Death Penalty Repealed in Five States in Five Years

Connecticut Governor Dannel P. Malloy signed legislation repealing the death penalty this week, making Connecticut the fifth state to end the death penalty in five years.

Connecticut will join Illinois, New Mexico, New Jersey, and New York to become the fifth state in five years to repeal the death penalty.”

“Connecticut is just the latest state to say that the death penalty has been a failure,” said Rachel Dromgoole project organizer for Delaware Repeal. “Here in Delaware we’ve also had our share of problems with the death penalty. Recently, Cornell University released a study that showed that Delaware’s death penalty is applied to people of color at a rate seven times higher than white defendants.”

Connecticut will join Illinois, New Mexico, New Jersey, and New York to become the fifth state in five years to repeal the death penalty. Montana, Colorado, Kansas, and Maryland have also considered repeal in recent years, and more than 800,000 California voters have signed to put the issue on the ballot in November.

Racial Disparities

The repeal comes on the heels of the 25th anniversary of the Supreme Court decision, McCleskey v. Kemp, in which the court upheld the constitutionality of racial disparities in the death penalty, thereby placing a substantial barrier to eliminating racial inequities in the criminal justice system overall.

Race is a serious issue in capital punishment that is extremely prevalent in Delaware. A group of Cornell University professors released the second phase of an empirical study on the death penalty in Delaware and found dramatic racial disparities in its death penalty system. The stark racial disparities in Delaware’s system led the authors of the study to remark, “Black victims and black murderers are less valued in Delaware.”

“Supporters of the death penalty in Delaware have always said that Delaware’s death penalty doesn’t have the problems found in other states. Well, here is evidence that it does! [This] study found ‘dramatic racial disparities in death sentencing,” said Kristin Froehlich of the Delaware Repeal Project and Delaware Citizens Opposed to the death penalty.

Race is only one of the issues that plague the death penalty here in Delaware. Our frequent use of the death penalty is extremely costly to taxpayers and families of victims.

In Connecticut the repeal effort was fueled by support from both members of law enforcement and family members of murder victims. More than 180 family members called upon the Connecticut legislature to repeal the death penalty, and dozens appeared at press conferences, called and visited lawmakers, appeared in the media, attended the votes in the General Assembly, and started a blog, www.ctvictimvoices.org.

Opinions from Families of Murder Victims

Family members who have lost a loved one to murder have been active in Delaware and are beginning to be more active with help from DE Repeal. They have also described the damaging effect that the death penalty has on families. They explain that:

  • The death penalty’s long trial process and countless appeals re-traumatize victims, forcing them to relive the crime in the courts and in the media.
  • The risk of executing an innocent person makes the long process necessary and inevitable.
  • This catch-22 leaves families in limbo for decades, never knowing if the sentence promised will ever be carried out.
  • The death penalty creates a false sense that a few murders are heinous while the majority of murders are “ordinary” – a distinction that exacerbates the trauma of most victims’ families whose cases are never considered for the death penalty.

“We’ve known for a long time that the death penalty costs millions more than life without parole and that it fails victims’ families and law enforcement – the very constituencies it purports to help,” said Kathleen MacRae, DE Repeal advisor and Executive Director of the ACLU of Delaware. “It has become much more difficult to say that we need the death penalty for the families of those lost to murder, because in Connecticut, Delaware, and around the country they are calling for its end.”

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