Hartford — Gov. Dannel P. Malloy signed the legislature's capital punishment repeal bill Wednesday afternoon, abolishing the state's death penalty for all but the 11 inmates currently on death row.
The legislation passed the state Senate earlier this month on a 20-16 vote, and later the House, 86-62.
In place of execution, egregious offenders convicted of "murder with special circumstance" will now face life imprisonment without parole under conditions similar to today's death row.
Malloy's office said he signed the bill in a low-key ceremony with family members of several murder victims.
"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," the governor said in a statement.
A Quinnipiac University poll released Wednesday morning found that 62 percent of Connecticut voters in general support the death penalty. However, the surveyed voters were evenly divided on the preferred punishment for a murderer, with 46 percent wanting the death penalty and 46 percent life wanting life imprisonment without parole.
During the House and Senate debate on the bill, opponents raised concerns that the 11 convicts on death row could use the exception-granting language in the repeal bill to get their death sentences commuted.
But proponents expressed confidence that the court would respect the legislature's intent to keep the death penalty for those 11.
In his statement Wednesday, Malloy said his view on the death penalty "evolved" over time.
"As a young man, I was a death penalty supporter," the governor said. "Then I spent years as a prosecutor and pursued dangerous felons in court, including murderers. In the trenches of a criminal courtroom, I learned firsthand that our system of justice is very imperfect.
"While it's a good system, designed with the highest ideals of our democratic society in mind, like most of human experience it is subject to the fallibility of those who participate in it. I saw people who were poorly served by their counsel. I saw people wrongly accused or mistakenly identified. I saw discrimination. In bearing witness to those things, I came to believe that doing away with the death penalty was the only way to ensure it would not be unfairly imposed."