Eleven men on death row will get a new lease on life after Connecticut's Supreme Court rejected an effort by state prosecutors to revive the death penalty.
The fight dates back to 2012, when Connecticut lawmakers passed a bill abolishing the death penalty. But the law didn't save inmates who were already on death row and were "grandfathered" in under the old system. Prosecutors fought to carry out the death penalty on those remaining inmates, but the court rejected their efforts on May 26.
In its decision, the state's highest court reaffirmed its earlier declaration that the death penalty doesn't reflect modern values, and that putting inmates to death constitutes cruel and unusual punishment, reports ABC News.
The decision "takes the prudent step of ending the state's failed death penalty and the possibility of any future executions," Sheila Denion of the Connecticut Network to Abolish the Death Penalty told ABC News.
Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, a former prosecutor, said his opposition to the death penalty was informed by his experiences on the job.
"These are deeply personal and moral issues that we as a society are facing and the court has once again ruled on today," Malloy wrote in a statement. "Our focus today should not be on those currently sitting on death row, but with their victims and those surviving family members."
Although they may not receive the governor's sympathy, the 11 men who remained on death row were happy to hear they would no longer face the prospect of execution and the decades-long legal battles that precede capital punishment. The Supreme Court's ruling also means those inmates will be moved into prisons among the general population instead of living in solitary confinement, according to the Hartford Courant.
"They're relieved that it's finally over," said Michael Courtney, a public defender who leads Connecticut's capital defense unit. Courtney told the Hartford Courant he spoke with five of the men on death row on May 26.
"I don't think anybody who has a death sentence is not afraid of being executed," he said. "They believed it could still happen."
The primary reason lawmakers did not protect current death row inmates when they voted to end capital punishment was because they did not want to be seen advocating for two men who raped and murdered a woman and her two daughters during a home invasion in 2007, according to ABC News.
The perpetrators -- Steven Hayes and Joshua Komisarjevsky -- were both convicted and were on death row when the state's legislators voted to end the death penalty. They are among the 11 men who were spared the death penalty with the Supreme Court's May 26 decision.
William Petit Jr., the lone survivor of the robbery-turned-murder, said he was upset Hayes and Komisarjevsky won't face execution.
"Now people have decided to change the game," Petit told the Hartford Courant. "You end up not having much faith in the criminal justice system because it's really not a justice system. It's a legal system moved by the winds of different opinions and who has been appointed. I think it's a sad day for jurisprudence in the state of Connecticut."