HARTFORD, Conn. — The vote to repeal Connecticut’s death penalty brought a moment of triumph for Elizabeth Brancato, a lifelong opponent of capital punishment despite the murder of her mother in 1979.
Brancato had lobbied lawmakers for years, becoming more resolved against capital punishment as she met families of other victims frustrated by endless appeals. She also started a blog to highlight the voices of other victims’ relatives in favor of repeal that she felt were overshadowed in the debate.
She was at the statehouse Wednesday night as the state legislature gave final approval to a bill that will make Connecticut the 17th state to repeal capital punishment. A week earlier, she was in the gallery when it cleared its biggest hurdle with an early morning vote in the state Senate.
“It was one of the best moments of my life,” Brancato said.
Brancato is among roughly 180 relatives of crime victims who pushed for repeal in private meetings with lawmakers, via petition drives and at news conferences. National advocates say the large size of their campaign sets Connecticut apart from other states, but relatives who oppose the death penalty are speaking up more often across the United States.
On the other side of the debate, death penalty supporters had perhaps the state’s most compelling advocate in Dr. William Petit Jr., the only survivor of a 2007 home invasion in which two paroled burglars killed his wife and two daughters. Last year, Petit successfully lobbied state senators to hold off on legislation for repeal while one of the two killers was still facing a death penalty trial.
This year, many lawmakers said they were swayed by the stories of people who oppose capital punishment despite losing loved ones to horrific crimes.
All states report increases in tax revenue
The severe fiscal problems that crippled state budgets and sparked brutal political battles in the wake of the recession are easing, as state tax revenue rose substantially last year, the Census Bureau reported Thursday.
State tax collections were up 8.9 percent in the fiscal year that in most states ended last June. The improvement spanned the country, with all 50 states reporting an increase in tax collections — something just 11 states experienced during the previous fiscal year.
The fiscal crisis faced by states had been the source of immense political battles across the country as governors and legislators took unprecedented steps to balance budgets and get a handle on ballooning debt.
After all that, the fiscal picture is showing steady signs of improvement. Several states, including Minnesota, where a dramatic budget standoff caused a government shutdown last summer, are projecting small budget surpluses. Meanwhile, tax revenue continues its steady improvement across the country.
While revenue remains below pre-recession levels, nine states saw tax revenue increases of 10 percent or more in 2011, a marked improvement over the previous fiscal year, when no state saw tax receipts grow by more than 10 percent and five endured decreases at least that large.
2 men killed at registered NH sex offenders’ home
DALTON, N.H. — Two men were shot to death Thursday at a northern New Hampshire home listed on the state’s sex offender registry. A third man was injured in the shooting.
Wayne Ainsworth, who lived in the home, was injured and was in stable condition at a hospital, said his sister, Shari Souliere, who was briefed by police. She didn’t know who else may have been living in the home, and she wasn’t provided with details about what may have transpired, she said.
Investigators didn’t release the victims’ names or other details about the investigation. But the attorney general’s office said there was no threat to the public.
The state’s sex offender registry lists two offenders at the address, 54-year-old Ainsworth and 48-year-old Joseph Besk. Both were convicted of aggravated felonious sexual assault. A story by The Berlin Daily Sun says the two married in 2010, while Besk was finishing his prison sentence.
The attorney general’s major crime unit was processing the scene Thursday evening.
Trooper, motorist: Mysterious object fell from sky
LITCHFIELD, Conn. — Authorities in northwestern Connecticut say they didn’t find anything after a state trooper and another person reported a large object falling out of the sky in Litchfield.
The Republican-American of Waterbury reported that a person driving in Litchfield at about 2 a.m. Tuesday reported that a green, glowing object the size of a whale fell from the sky and crashed into Bantam Lake. Officials say that at about the same time, a state trooper 10 miles away in Warren called dispatchers to report that something fell out of the sky and landed near Bantam or Morris.
Morris firefighters made several passes up and down the lake in a boat looking for a possible plane crash, but didn’t find any debris.
Authorities called off the search, leaving the mystery unsolved.
Syria quieter as cease-fire takes hold
BEIRUT — A shaky truce took effect in Syria on Thursday, bringing a respite from the intense bloodshed of recent weeks and prompting the United States to step up pressure for a Security Council resolution that will oblige the Syrian government to fully comply with the terms of a U.N.-brokered peace plan.
Activist groups said at least five people were killed when Syrian troops opened fire on demonstrators and on civilians returning to their homes, and President Bashar al-Assad’s government accused “terrorists” of carrying out two bombings and an assassination in which at least two people died.
It was clear, however, that Syria was quieter than it has been for months, leading to cautious hope that the six-point peace plan proposed by the joint U.N.-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan may help end the bloodshed and usher in a negotiated settlement to the country’s 13-month-old uprising.