Connecticut becomes 17th state to abolish death penalty

Death penalty protesters hold a candlelight vigil after the 2005 execution of serial killer Michael Ross in Enfield, Connecticut.2012-04-25 CNN

Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy signed a bill into law Wednesday that abolishes the death penalty, making his state the 17th in the nation to abandon capital punishment and the fifth in five years to usher in a repeal.

The law is effective immediately, though prospective in nature, meaning that it would not apply to those already sentenced to death. It replaces the death penalty with life in prison without the possibility of release as the state's highest form of punishment.

"Although it is an historic moment -- Connecticut joins 16 other states and the rest of the industrialized world by taking this action -- it is a moment for sober reflection, not celebration," Malloy said in a statement.

He added that the "unworkability" of Connecticut's death penalty law was a contributing factor in his decision.

"In the last 52 years, only two people have been put to death in Connecticut -- and both of them volunteered for it," Malloy said. "Instead, the people of this state pay for appeal after appeal, and then watch time and again as defendants are marched in front of the cameras, giving them a platform of public attention they don't deserve."

This month, lawmakers in the state's House of Representatives passed the bill by a vote of 86 to 63. The state Senate had approved it a week before.

State lawmakers first tried to pass a similar bill in 2009 but were ultimately blocked by then-Gov. Jodi Rell, a Republican.

Capital punishment has existed in the Nutmeg State since its colonial days. But it was forced to review its death penalty laws beginning in 1972, when a Supreme Court decision required greater consistency in its application.

A moratorium was then imposed until a 1976 decision by the high court upheld the constitutionality of capital punishment.

Since then, Connecticut juries have handed down 15 death sentences. Of those, only one person has been executed, according to the Death Penalty Information Center, a nonpartisan group that studies death penalty laws.

Michael Ross, a convicted serial killer, was put to death by lethal injection in 2005 after he voluntarily gave up his appeals.

The state now has 11 people on death row.

Advocates of a repeal say that Connecticut's past law kept inmates -- who were often engaged in multiple appeals -- on death row for extended periods of time, costing taxpayers far more than if the convicts were serving a life sentence in the general prison population.

They also point to instances in which wrongful convictions have been overturned with new investigative methods, including forensic testing.

Opponents of the repeal had said that capital punishment is a criminal deterrent that offers justice for victims and their families.

In the last five years, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York and Illinois have repealed the death penalty. California voters will decide the issue in November.