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Connecticut Senate set to vote on repeal of death penalty

(Reuters) - Connecticut's Senate was set to vote on Wednesday on whether to repeal the death penalty, a measure that if approved could make it the fifth U.S. state in five years to abandon capital punishment.

A vote was expected in the afternoon in the Democratic-controlled Senate, where observers said it remained unclear how much support it had.

If approved, the bill would go to the majority Democratic House of Representatives, where it is likely to pass, and Democratic Governor Dannel Malloy has promised to sign it into law.

The measure would replace the death penalty with life in prison without the possibility of parole. An amendment added on Tuesday provided that future felons, convicted of life sentences without parole, would be subject to the same harsh conditions as those inmates currently on Death Row.

The proposal to repeal the death penalty is "prospective," meaning the 11 men currently on Connecticut's Death Row would still face execution.

Several legal experts have said that despite the "prospective" wording, defense attorneys for current Death Row inmates could use the repeal measure to win life sentences for their clients.

A similar bill was defeated last year in Connecticut, just as the high-profile trial of Joshua Komisarjevsky was getting underway for his role in a 2007 home invasion in Cheshire in which a mother and her two daughters were brutalized and killed.

Komisarjevsky and another man are on Death Row for the murders.

The only survivor of the Cheshire attack, Dr. William Petit Jr. - the husband of the murdered woman and the father of the murdered girls - has spoken out against repeal.

Illinois, New Mexico and New Jersey have voted to abolish the death penalty in recent years. New York's death penalty law was declared unconstitutional in 2004, and the legislature has repeatedly rejected attempts to reinstate capital punishment.

Other state legislatures are considering bills to abolish the death penalty as well.

"The upcoming Connecticut vote is in line with a clear trend away from the use of capital punishment across the country. As significant concerns about executing the innocent, the high cost of the death penalty and its unfair application continue to grow, more states are turning to alternative punishments," said Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center.

Connecticut has executed only one person, in 2005, since the death penalty was reinstated in the United States in 1976, according to the Death Penalty Research Center. The man executed, Michael Ross, had abandoned his appeals.

(Reporting by Mary Ellen Godin; Editing By Ellen Wulfhorst)

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