Remember when Stamford’s state Senator lead efforts to abolish death penalty?

During the course of his career in the state Senate, Andrew McDonald, D-Stamford worked hard in his capacity as a Judiciary Committee chairman to abolish the death penalty.

The closest he came was 2009 when the measure passed the General Assembly but was vetoed by then-Republican Gov. M. Jodi Rell.

McDonald after winning reelection in 2010 left office to become chief counsel for newly-elected Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, Stamford’s former mayor and McDonald’s close friend/political ally.

State Rep. Carlo Leone, D-Stamford won the special February 2011 election to replace McDonald. And just like that the seat was no longer a reliable vote in the closely divided Senate for repealing the death penalty. In the past Leone opposed such efforts in the House.

In the days and hours leading up to today’s vote on the latest bill, Leone has shared the spotlight with a couple colleagues considered fence sitters.

The very fact the debate is going on as I type this blog means the Democratic-majority has the support necessary to pass the bill on to the House of Representatives.

But whether Leone will change his pro-death penalty position remains to be seen.

He told me earlier this afternoon he will not reveal his position until a final vote is called later tonight or early tomorrow.

“It’s a serious issue and matter and deserves vigorous debate,” Leone said.

He said he did not meet today with Dr. William Petit, the sole survivor of the infamous Cheshire home invasion, who since that 2007 tragedy claimed his wife and their two teenage daughters has been a familiar figure in any death penalty debates in Hartford.

He also said he has not spoken about the matter with Malloy, who has said he will sign the legislation if passed by the House.

“I’ve done my own due diligence,” Leone said.

Leone was among those legislators who toured death row at Osborn and Northern correctional institutions this winter. Leone said the visit convinced him that anyone who complains death row inmates are being coddled is wrong.

“Both locations are not a happy place to be,” Leone said.

Still, Leone said an amendment announced this morning by legislative leaders described as imposing tougher conditions on prisoners who, were the death penalty abolished, are instead sentenced to life in prison is helpful to his decision-making process.

I asked Leone if, given McDonald’s strong and vocal support of repeal, whether he feels any pressure to pick up the baton. Isn’t that what constituents in his district expect?

Leone said he has never polled voters in his district on the matter. And, he said, his predecessor’s position on the death penalty “would never be a reason to vote for or against it.”

McDonald in an interview said the two have not discussed the death penalty “in any significant detail.”

“He’s elected to perform the job as he deems appropriate,” McDonald said of Leone. “If he asks for my advice I’d be happy to give it. But he’s a bright guy, knows the district well. He doesn’t need my help in doing that.”

UPDATE: Back in 2011 Leone’s Republican opponent for McDonald’s seat, Bob Kolenberg, sounded less supportive of the death penalty during one debate hosted by the Darien League of Women Voters.

Here’s what the pair had to say at the time, courtesy of Darien Patch:

  • Kolenberg: “I’ve got mixed feelings with the death penalty. On the one hand, I believe in an eye for an eye. For instance, the criminals that committed the crime in Cheshire, Conn.—I’ve got very little sympathy for them and I would be supporting the death penalty in their case. But that being said, I think there has to be proper safeguards in place, because it’s a court system. It’s run by people and individuals. I want to make sure there’s enough safeguards in place for the less fortunate in our society, the minorities that don’t have the resources to provide a proper defense for themselves if they’re accused of a crime. … Any death penalty legislation has to be very, very carefully considered.”
  • Leone: “I’ve been on record supporting the death penalty. I have voted against the repeal of that, and the reason for that is that—in extreme cases, in clear cut cases, where you beyond a shadow of a doubt you know that the person committed the atrocity, whether it’s been a brutal murder or incestuous rape or something to that degree—I do believe the state, as an entity, has a right to take those people’s lives and not have them be part of the burden of society. Where there is doubt, where there are mitigating circumstances, we shouldn’t do that, and there’s where the abuse has been in the death penalty.”
Brian Lockhart