Rell Seeks Overhaul Of Law For Dangerous Criminals
By CHRISTOPHER KEATING And JON LENDER | Courant Staff Writers
April 04, 2008
Gov. M. Jodi Rell called Thursday for the overhaul of the state's complicated law for dangerous criminals, and she immediately received support from top Democrats in the wake of this week's New Britain double shooting.
The state's current version of the "three strikes" law, which is known as the persistent felony offender law, needs to be rewritten in order for it to become workable, Rell said.
"We'd like to see [the law] streamlined, strengthened, and of course, simplified," Rell said.
Rell announced that she was seeking the overhaul after a 90-minute meeting at the governor's mansion with the state's top law enforcement officials, including Chief State's Attorney Kevin Kane, the chief court administrator, and the commissioners of public safety and corrections.
Kane has already been working on rewriting the law, and a key Democrat — Sen. Andrew McDonald, the co-chairman of the judiciary committee — said he is open to negotiating a compromise before the General Assembly adjourns on May 7.
"If the statute needs to be streamlined, then that's certainly something we should be able to accomplish this session," McDonald, of Stamford, said. "It's an extraordinarily complex statute that deals with extraordinarily complex situations."
Last month, the Democratic-dominated judiciary committee rejected a version of a "three strikes-and-you're-out" proposal that would have taken away discretion from the sentencing judge and made a life prison sentence mandatory upon conviction of a third violent felony.
The current law has seven major sections and 18 subsections with numerous references to other criminal laws and footnotes on the history of the legislation.
"The current persistent felony offender law is like the tax code," said Kane, a longtime prosecutor who stood next to Rell at the afternoon press conference. "You've got to be a Philadelphia lawyer to understand it. ... If I have a hard time reading it — the number of times I've read it — imagine how a judge feels when he's reading it pretrial."
During a week of widespread heated rhetoric and partisan criticism at the Capitol, some Senate Democrats struck a more conciliatory tone Thursday with fewer than five weeks left in the legislative session.
Senate President Pro Tem Donald Williams, the highest-ranking senator, said "there's no reason why we can't work with the governor" on her request to increase funding for global positioning system, or GPS, monitoring to track convicted sex offenders with bracelets that could monitor their movements.
"I would like to think we're moving beyond the finger-pointing stage," Williams, of Brooklyn, said. "My goal and hope is to move beyond the political rhetoric."
Williams also favors more money for re-entry programs for those released from prison and for more beds for sex offenders after their release.
The suspect in the New Britain case, longtime criminal and convicted felon Leslie T. Williams, was living at the Stewart B. McKinney homeless shelter in Hartford before the New Britain shootings. He had been released from prison three weeks earlier following an eight-year sentence on a charge of sexually assaulting his 5-year-old niece.
McDonald, too, agreed with Rell that more money is needed for GPS and for mandatory pre-sentence investigations that would be delivered to judges before they make sentencing decisions for convicted sex offenders.
In addition, more funding would allow for better monitoring by probation officers. Each probation officer now oversees an average of 45 released sex offenders, which McDonald said should be reduced to 25 sex offenders.
While the Senate Democrats were throwing olive branches in Rell's direction, House Speaker James Amann remained perturbed that legislators were excluded from Thursday's meeting at the governor's mansion.
For the second consecutive day, Amann thumped Rell for her support of the three strikes legislation, accusing her of "fear-mongering" with the public and of manipulating the issue for political advantage by excluding lawmakers from the meeting.
"When you fear-monger and you scare people, that's not leadership," Amann said.
"It's not about substance," he said of Rell and her meeting. "It's about grandstanding."
As a result, Amann said, he plans to hold his own meeting Monday, probably in his Capitol office, to discuss the issue with the state commissioners and everyone else who was in the meeting Thursday at the governor's mansion.
"We will invite all the same people to the meeting Monday," Amann said. "We will invite the governor. We'll have a dialogue about how to solve this, and maybe we'll even reach the conclusion that we can't control this. After all, this was a desperate SOB" in the New Britain killing.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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