Allie Perry on death penalty repeal
Editor’s Note: The Rev. Allie Perry ’80 M.Div. has served since 2008 on the board of the Connecticut Network to Abolish the Death Penalty, a prime mover in the successful effort to put an end to capital punishment in Connecticut. She has taught courses in therapy and nonviolence as an adjunct member of the faculty at Yale Divinity School and serves on the YDS Alumni Board. Following is her reflection on Connecticut’s abolition of the death penalty, signed into law by Governor Dannell Malloy on April 25.
“The arc of the universe bends towards justice,” Dr. King was wont to say. Sometimes the bend can be hard to see, and I find myself wondering, as the Psalmist did, “How long, O God, how long?” I felt that way in 2005 when I joined others in a vigil outside the Osborn Correctional Institution the night the State of Connecticut executed Michael Ross. I felt that way again in 2009 when legislation to repeal the death penalty in Connecticut had passed in both the Senate and the House of Representatives, only to be vetoed by then Governor Jodi Rell.
But this year was different. When Connecticut’s current governor, Dannell Malloy, signed repeal legislation on Wednesday, April 25, the bend was visible to all. Connecticut became the 17th state, the fifth in as many years, to abolish the death penalty and to choose instead the sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole. (Because the bill is prospective there are 11 previously sentenced people still on death row in Connecticut.)
The governor had promised from the start that he would sign repeal legislation, so no surprise there; he was true to his word. The hard work this time, in the shadow of the horrific Cheshire home invasion and subsequent capital trials, involved persuading a majority of Connecticut’s legislators. An impressive coalition of folks and organizations came together to do that work, including the NAACP, Amnesty International, and many faith groups. Religious leaders such as the Most Reverend Peter Rosazza, auxiliary bishop emeritus in the Catholic Archdiocese of Hartford and Bishops Suffragan James Curry ’85 M.Div. and Laura Ahrens ’91 M.Div. of the Episcopal Diocese of Connecticut. United Church of Christ Connecticut Conference minister Chuck Wildman ’70 B.D. advocated passionately for repeal.
A prime mover in this campaign has been the Connecticut Network to Abolish the Death Penalty, started in 1986 with the laser-like mission of abolition. Since 2008 I have served on the board of CNADP, and appreciate from the inside out the dedicated, strategic, respectful, faithful work (and witness) of CNADP, its small staff and statewide network of members.
Compelling voices for abolition, and for me the most moving, have been those of the family members of victims. This year CNADP helped to organize over 170 family members who favored repeal. The Rev. Walter Everett, whose then 24 year-old son, Scott, was murdered in Bridgeport in 1987, was one of those. For years his has been a persistent and passionate voice, advocating for repeal. The death penalty does not bring closure for families, Everett argues. The protracted judicial process creates additional trauma, its own cruel and unusual punishment for victims’ families. Everett in time forgave his son’s killer. At this year’s Judiciary Committee hearing he testified, “I did not want my son’s murderer to take my life, too, emotionally, psychologically, spiritually, and even physically.”
The tipping point came in the pre-dawn hours of Thursday, April 11, when, after an afternoon and evening of impassioned and soul-searching debate, the Senate voted 20 - 16 in favor of the repeal legislation. (The next week the House of Representatives passed repeal 86-62.) Senator Gayle Slossberg is one legislator who had a change of mind and heart and this year cast her vote for repeal. In a powerful speech that by midday Thursday had been shared by many Facebook users, Slossberg said, “The most compelling reason to reject the death penalty is to set ourselves on the path to the kind of society we want for our future. . . . I want to know that in the face of terrible evil, we will hold on tighter to our humanity; that when our faith in each other is challenged, we will work harder to fulfill our obligations to one another as human beings; that we will stand for justice for all; that we will raise each other up, and not descend to the level of criminals. We cannot confront darkness with darkness and expect to have light."
Connecticut's decision to repeal the death penalty brings light and is good news for justice and human rights. One night this summer the Coliseum in Rome will be lit up to signify that light and to honor Connecticut's good news.