William Petit Jr., the lone survivor of the 2007 Cheshire home invasion, urged lawmakers Wednesday to make changes to Connecticut's death penalty that would stop unnecessary delays in the death penalty process.
He also said that victims should have the right to be heard by a jury in death penalty cases before a verdict is determined. Currently, victims are allowed to read impact statements in court before a verdict is announced, but after one has been determined.
The state should have some sense of responsibility to victims, said Petit, who lost his wife, Jennifer Hawke-Petit, and his two daughters, Hayley and Michaela, in the home invasion.
Petit's comments were made in support of a bill that looks to streamline the death penalty process by shortening the appeals process. The bill also includes recommendations made by a 2003 commission established to study the death penalty. One such recommendation is allowing victims to speak before a verdict is reached.
Judiciary committee Chairman Rep. Michael Lawlor, D- East Haven, said committee leaders were reluctant to raise a death penalty bill this year. Last year's bill that would have abolished the death penalty passed both the House and Senate, but was vetoed by Gov. M. Jodi Rell. House Bill No. 5445 was raised at the request of Rep. David Labriola, R- Naugatuck, and Rep. Willam Hamzy, R- Terryville, Lawlor said.
Some, including public defenders with the Innocence Project and committee member Sen. John Kissel, R-Enfield, question whether the proposed bill would actually complicate the death penalty process because of unintended consequences. There could be constitutional challenges to the part that would streamline the appeals process, they said.
Although her son, Jumar, was shot and killed in Hartford in 2007, Pamela Joiner opposes the death penalty and any reform changes. Her son's murder remains unsolved, and the death penalty will not help her, she said.
Joiner told lawmakers Wednesday that it was her first time testifying in Hartford and that she was doing it because her son no longer had a voice. Joiner said the death penalty was not on her mind when Jumar was killed. Instead, she said she was seeking justice.
"My son's just gone," Joiner said. "He's just a statistic."
Jeffrey Deskovic, who was wrongfully convicted for the 1989 murder of Angela Correa in New York when he was 16, is also opposed to the reform bill. DNA evidence proved his innocence, and he was released from prison in 2006.
Because he was a minor, Deskovic did not receive the death penalty, but believes that had he been only two years older, he would have been sentenced to death and likely would have died before he was proven innocent. Deskovic said his appeals ran out in 2001. He was not released until four years later.
"There is no fixing the death penalty," Deskovic said. "If you have the death penalty, you will execute innocent people."
Among those still waiting to testify on the bill are Chief State's Attorney Kevin Kane.
Petit Supports Streamlining Death Penalty Process; Joiner Opposes Reform Efforts
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