by John Christoffersen, published Monday, May 30, 2011 in the newstimes.com
Relatives of murder victims who oppose execution were eager to meet earlier this month with a Connecticut senator who was a key swing vote on a death penalty bill. They knew she had met with a prominent doctor who has campaigned in favor of capital punishment after his family was killed in a gruesome house invasion.
But they said Sen. Edith Prague was too busy to meet with them. She announced May 11, days after meeting with Dr. William Petit, that she would oppose the bill to repeal Connecticut's death penalty.
The decision by Prague and another lawmaker who met with Petit doomed the bill in the Senate this session. Death penalty opponents were especially disappointed with how the debate ended.
"I have valid views as well," said Catherine Ednie, whose brother was one of five young men killed in Redding by their landlord in 1995 over a rent dispute and wanted to meet with Prague. "I have a very different viewpoint than Dr. Petit."
Gail Canzano, whose brother-in-law was killed in 1999, said everyone sympathizes with Petit and his family, but doesn't think public policy should be decided on the basis of one case.
"There are many families who believe this system is terribly broken and does them a great disservice," Canzano said.
Petit, whose wife and two daughters were killed in their Cheshire home in 2007, played an extraordinary role in stopping strong momentum to end Connecticut's death penalty. Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, who was elected in November, is the first governor in decades to oppose the death penalty. The Legislature had voted to repeal it in 2009, but then Gov. M. Jodi Rell vetoed the bill.
A Quinnipiac University poll in March found 67 percent of registered voters favor the death penalty, a new high for the state.
Connecticut has carried out only one execution in 51 years, when serial killer Michael Ross was put to death by lethal injection in 2005. Some inmates have been on death row for decades as they appeal their sentences.
Petit's wife was raped and strangled. His daughters were tied to their beds with gasoline poured on or around them before their house was set on fire. Petit was beaten with a baseball bat and tied up, but managed to escape to a neighbor's house to get help.
Even though the bill stated that it only affects future capital felony crimes, Prague said Petit was concerned that the second suspect in his family's slaying, Joshua Komisarjevsky, could use the repeal as the basis for an appeal and possibly not face capital punishment. Komisarjevsky's trial starts in September. His co-defendant, Steven Hayes, was sentenced to death last year.
"Whatever he would have asked me to do, I would have done, because that family doesn't deserve any more stress or aggravation," Prague said in announcing her position.
Messages were left for Prague this week, but she could not be reached for comment.
Jeffrey Meyer, counsel to Petit, said at the time that Petit and his sister "deeply admire Sen. Prague and her courage to oppose a measure that would confuse and disrupt the ongoing trial against Joshua Komisarjevsky."
Meyer declined further comment and said Petit did not wish to comment.
Vicky Coward, whose son Tyler was killed in June 2007 in New Haven, a month before Petit's family was killed in the nearby affluent suburb, said Prague's comments showed favoritism.
"All I know is life is life, death is death," Coward said. "I just want things to be fair. Don't forget the inner-city people too. They don't give the inner-city as much attention as they do if something happens in the suburban areas."
Coward said she was angry after her son was killed, but ultimately came to oppose the death penalty for her son's killer.
"Why would I want to inflict the same kind of torture that I'm experiencing on another family that had nothing to do with killing Tyler?" Coward asked.
Ednie, a Stamford resident, said she always opposed the death penalty, even after her brother, David Froehlich, was killed.
She feels that favoring execution "would put me at the same level as the murderer in some ways."
Ednie said her family was angry, too, but counseling and time helped them heal. One of her sisters went on to help grieving children whose parents were killed in the Sept. 11 attacks and another sister became a social worker.
as a result of their brother's murder.
Canzano predicted Connecticut will ultimately abolish the death penalty.
She said her brother-in-law's case ended in two years with a 32-year sentence. Petit will have to endure decades of court hearings for an elusive death penalty, she said.
"Connecticut is not going to do it any faster, and Connecticut is not going to execute anybody either, so what do we do this for," Canzano said.