After a last count, death penalty vote is on for Wednesday

With Gov. Dannel P. Malloy pledging to sign the bill into law, the state Senate is preparing for a vote Wednesday on a measure to repeal the death penalty for future crimes.

Leaders of the Senate Democratic majority intended Tuesday to canvass their 22 members for a final time, with the expectation of getting a commitment from at least 18 senators, the bare minimum necessary for passage.

“We’ll make a final decision tomorrow,” Senate President Pro Tem Donald E. Williams Jr., D-Brooklyn, said Monday night. “Do we want to move forward one way or the other? Yes.”

UPDATE: Senate leadership confirms it has scheduled a repeal vote for Wednesday.

Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman, a longtime death-penalty opponent who presides over the Senate, is prepared to break a tie by casting a vote for repeal should the 36-member Senate deadlock.

If all three Democratic senators who have been publicly undecided cast a vote for repeal, the measure would pass with 19 votes. The three are Sen. Edith G. Prague of Columbia, Carlo Leone of Stamford and Joseph J. Crisco of Woodbridge.

“I feel good about the conversations we’ve been having with the members,” said Sen. Eric Coleman, D-Bloomfield, co-chairman of the Judiciary Committee and a proponent of repeal.

He declined to discuss conversations with specific senators, and he measured his words carefully in an interview Monday night. But when asked if he believed the Senate now had the votes for repeal, he replied, “I think so.”

Leone and Crisco, who have voted against previous repeal bills, have said little publicly about how they intend to reach a decision.

Prague said she is leaning toward repeal, but only if she is assured her vote does not spare two of the 11 men now on Connecticut’s death row: Joshua Komisarjevsky and Steven Hayes, convicted of a triple murder in the Cheshire home invasion.

“My fear is some innocent person will be sent to death row,” Prague said. “By the same token, I couldn’t live with myself if repeal got Komisarjevsky and Hayes to win an appeal to have their death penalties reversed.”

If Connecticut repeals the death penalty for future crimes, it would join New Mexico as a state with men awaiting execution, even though it no longer can sentence anyone to death for new crimes.

New Mexico repealed its death penalty in 2009, but the law was written not to commute the sentences of two men already on death row.

In Connecticut, capital crimes now punishable by a death sentence would carry a sentence of life in prison with no possibility of release.

Connecticut’s legislature also passed a repeal bill in 2009, but it was vetoed by Gov. M. Jodi Rell. Connecticut and New Hampshire are the only New England states with the death penalty.

Prague and Sen. Andrew Maynard, D-Stonington, who voted for repeal in 2009, when Gov. M. Jodi Rell vetoed a similar measure, blocked a vote last year when one of the Cheshire defendants still was awaiting trial.

Maynard is unconditionally committed for voting for repeal Wednesday, while Prague is demanding that a guarantee that Komisarjevsky and Hayes — “those two monsters,” as Prague calls them — will not see their sentences reduced to life without parole by an appeals court.

Sen. Andrew Roraback, R-Goshen, who has previously voted for repeal, has made his vote conditional on the legislature repealing or significantly revising a law that awards inmates “risk reduction credits” that can reduce a sentence for good behavior.

Coleman said he was not optimistic of winning a vote from Roraback, who is seeking the Republican nomination for Congress in the 5th District.

If the vote is taken Wednesday, it will come during the holiest week of the Christian calendar.

The bishops of the Episcopal Diocese of Connecticut intend to lead a march from Christ Church Cathedral in downtown Hartford to the state Capitol Tuesday morning, mixing religion and a demand for repeal.

They plan to enact the Stations of the Cross, depicting the events leading up to the crucifixion of Jesus. The Episcopal and Catholic bishops have lobbied for repeal and met with the governor.

Malloy held a press conference last week with Ben Jealous, the president and chief executive officer of the NAACP, which is leading an effort to abolish the death penalty nationally.

But Malloy has not directly lobbied legislators.

“I think everybody in the state of Connecticut knows what my position is,” Malloy said. “To state it quite succinctly, if the legislature was to send me a bill that was prospective in nature, I would sign it.”

Connecticut is one of 34 states with the death penalty. Of the 1,289 executions in the U.S. since capital punishment was reinstated, only one was in Connecticut: Michael Ross, who was put to death in 2005 at his request.

The U.S. was the only western democracy to carry out executions in 2011. With 43 executions, it is believed to have put more people to death than any other country except China, Iran, Iraq and Saudi Arabia.

The other nations known to have had executions last year: Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Belarus, Egypt, Malaysia, North Korea, the Palestinian Authority, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria, Taiwan, United Arab Emirates, Vietnam and Yemen.