The 20-16 vote came at 2:05 a.m., after more than 10 hours of debate. The measure now moves to the House of Representatives, where it has broad support. Gov. Dannel P. Malloy has pledged to sign the bill once it reaches his desk.
"It's no secret I have agonized over this issue,'' said Sen. Edith Prague. A one-time supporter of the death penalty, the Democrat from Columbia has changed her position twice since 2009.
But in the early hours of Thursday morning, Prague explained why she is now backing a bill that would abolish capital punishment in Connecticut and replace it with life in prison without the possibility of release.
"I cannot stand the thought of being responsible for someone being falsely accused and facing the death penalty,'' Prague said, speaking slowly and deliberately as her colleagues listened. "For me this is a moral issue ... I don't want to be part of a system that sends innocent people ... to the death penalty."
Like Prague, Sen. Gayle Slossberg, D-Miford, said she has spent many sleepless nights wrestling with the moral implications of capital punishment. "Does a moral society execute people?'' she asked. "Haven't we then become the evil we're trying to eliminate?"
Slossberg had been a defender of the death penalty but she, too, has come to reassess her position. "For me, the most compelling reason to reject the death penalty is to set ourselves on the path to the kind of society we really want for our future,'' she said.
"I want something better for our future,'' Slossberg added. "We cannot confront darkness with darkness and expect light."