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10 years later, legal experts discuss Connecticut abolishing the death penalty

Sarah Hina

A New York-based non-profit hosted a webinar with legal experts from Connecticut to discuss how ending the death penalty 10 years ago shaped justice reform in the state.

Equal Justice USA provided a platform for those who spoke on why Connecticut ending the death penalty led to broad changes in the system

Under former Governor Dan Malloy, Connecticut became the 17th state to abolish the practice for future cases.

Mike Lawlor, a former state representative who served in the Malloy administration as the undersecretary for criminal justice policy, said Connecticut has seen some success since dropping the death penalty, but more needs to be done.

“If I could wave a magic wand, I would eliminate money bail because I think that is a major contributor both to racial disparities and racial injustice but also just to dysfunction in the criminal justice system,” Lawlor said. “I think that is sort of on the radar screen on the policy makers in Hartford and hopefully that discussion really heats up in the years to come.”

Lawlor was referring to a pair of murder cases that took place in 2007, which involved the Petit family home invasion in Cheshire and another that involved a Black teen from New Haven.

The trials took place at the same time, but it was Petit’s home invasion that got more local and national media attention.

Victoria Coward, the mother of the teen, said that is what fueled her frustration with the state’s justice system.

“I just felt like there was a lot of racism going on at the time in separating the urban community from the suburban,” Coward said. “I’m like, 'a life is a life,' point blank. Period. I lost my son and he lost a family, but my son is just as important as his family.”

Lawlor added that since then, Connecticut has become a national leader in criminal justice reform such as reducing mass incarceration and improving public safety.

Mike Lyle is a former reporter and host at WSHU.