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Norwalk Pastors Disagree on Death Penalty

For the Rev. Artie Kassimis, it's cut-and-dried: The death penalty is warranted in certain "exceptional cases." But other Norwalk pastors disagree.

"From a theological perspective we are opposed to the death penalty in an absolute way," said the Rev. Paul Bryant-Smith . The senior pastor of First Congregational Church felt comfortable speaking on behalf of the United Church of Christ because the denomination has a policy paper on the issue.

Some Connecticut lawmakers are working to repeal the death penalty in favor of life imprisonment, but a majority of Connecticut residents side with Kassimis, according to a Quinnipiac University poll . Of the 1,693 registered voters who ­­took part in the poll, 67 percent were in favor of the death penalty, 28 percent against it. The poll says support for the death penalty has risen steadily since the July 23, 2007, murders of Jennifer Hawke-Petit, 47, and her two daughters, Hayley, 17, and Michaela, 11, in Cheshire.

Steven Hayes has been convicted in the murders and sentenced to death . Kassimis, senior pastor of the nondenominational Word Alive Bible Church , believes that's appropriate. "Those people who have no care for life and have no remorse – for those exceptional cases I think the death penalty is definitely warranted," said Kassimis.

His opinion is based on scripture. "The Old Testament does lay out many regulations for standards in where the death penalty is valid," he said, citing Exodus 21:12 and Exodus 21:16 .

Bryant-Smith said social justice is part of the foundation of the United Church of Christ, and he'd like to see the death penalty repealed. "We're all in favor of repealing it as followers of someone who was unjustly executed," he said.

He is relying on the New Testament. "'Thou shalt not kill' is kind of foundational," he said. "We have come out of a long history – if you read the Hebrew Scriptures, there's a whole list of things that you stone people to death for. But we've really come beyond that. We look at Jesus and his teaching about mercy and forgiveness."

Rabbi Ron Fish of Temple Beth El is also against the death penalty. The Daily Norwalk will present his views in a separate story.

Bryant-Smith is also against the death penalty because mistakes have been made. "Any other penalty, if someone is later found to be innocent you can release them," he said.

"That's a problem with the justice system," Kassimis said. "I think when they investigate, they have to have without shadow of a doubt the evidence and the proof that the person did do it. I know that's an issue. But when you've got the guys in Cheshire, who killed the family, to me I think that's an open-and-shut case."

Do you have definite feelings about the death penalty?

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