'Home Invasion' Bill Passes House, Senate


WINSTED - Six months to the day after a grisly triple homicide in Cheshire rocked Connecticut residents, the state Legislature overwhelmingly passed criminal justice reforms early Wednesday morning, strengthening the state’s parole system and designating of a new "home invasion" offense.

Last July 23, 44-year-old Stephen Hayes of Winsted and 27-year-old Joshua Komisarjevsky of Cheshire — both parolees from prison — were arrested for reportedly breaking into the home of Dr. William Petit Jr. The men allegedly beat and tied up Petit before killing his wife and two daughters and setting fire to their home.

In response to the violent murders, Gov. M. Jodi Rell and numerous legislators immediately pushed for a tougher stance on home invasions and the state’s parole system.

Included in the resulting legislation is a new statute that would classify home invasion as a Class A felony, guaranteeing a minimum sentence of 10 years and a maximum of 25 years. Home invasion would also be considered a violent crime, meaning those convicted would be required to serve 85 percent of their sentences.

Though the bill passed by a vote of 36-0 in the Senate and 126-12 in the House, there was some disagreement over the language of the proposal, including a suggested "three strikes" law, which failed to pass.

"The bill made some important improvements to the law but it also fell short, in my opinion," said state Sen. Andrew Roraback (R-30). "It’s confusing because the three strikes proposal we had in front of us applied to conviction for a third serious violent felony — rape, murder, arson or home invasion. You would have to go to prison for 30 years, minimum."

Roraback said legislators opposed to three strikes legislation pointed to California as an example of the ineffectiveness of the law, which has overburdened that state’s criminal justice system.

"People say California has a bad law, but this was not California," Roraback said, noting that the Connecticut three strikes proposal would have applied to violent crimes only. "California is if you steal an apple, or if you have a marijuana seed on the floor of your car — that’s not what we were debating. We were saying, ‘How many serious violent felonies do you have to commit before protection of the public trumps you getting another chance?’"

Despite the failure of of the three strikes proposal to pass the Legislature, Rell said Wednesday that she was pleased with the overall bill. "Violent criminals have no place in our state, except inside a prison cell," the governor said in a statement. "A tough home invasion law is the linchpin of our real reform. Our reforms will make our state safer, with new laws and tougher penalties that will get criminals off the streets and behind bars."

Last July’s Cheshire slayings came at a time when a state sentencing task force had already been working to develop suggested reforms to the criminal justice system, including changing mandatory minimum drug sentences and tackling racial disparity in sentencing. Members of the task force said last fall that the Cheshire crimes shifted the focus of the group from leniency to tougher sentencing. Rell created her own task force to investigate the parole system and banned parole for all violent offenders.

"In my opinion we need to be more discriminating in terms of people we incarcerate," Roraback said. "It ought to be people who’ve commited violent crimes and people who pose a threat to the public." The senator said the focus on violent offenders offers legislators a chance to take another look at sentencing for nonviolent crimes. "We could probably look closely at handling that population in a less secure way with a great focus on treatment," he said.

The new criminal justice legislation calls for new full-time positions on the state parole board and improvements to the criminal justice systems computer network. Global positioning system tracking of criminals on parole would be enhanced and the state would hire 10 new parole officers to handle the caseload. An automated system would notify victims of court hearings and make it easier for state agencies to share information.

Additional measures are expected to come up for debate when the regular session of the state Legislature begins Feb. 6.

"These changes are just the beginning of a much-needed, top-to-bottom reform of our entire criminal justice system," Rell said. "With this legislation we are making great strides toward improving the parole system, strengthening the laws on home invasion and burglary and cracking down on repeat offenders. More will need to be done, and we will be taking up those challenges in the regular session that begins just two weeks from now."

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