"Justice is the first virtue of social institutions," according to philosopher John Rawls. It transcends national borders, races and cultures. The death penalty is the appropriate societal response to the brutal and willful act of capital felony murder.

Every murder destroys a portion of society. Those murdered can never grow and contribute to humankind; the realization of their potential will never be achieved. I support the death penalty not as a deterrent or for revenge or closure, but because it is just and because it prevents murderers from ever harming again.

By intentionally, unlawfully taking the life of another, a murderer breaks a sacrosanct law of society and forfeits his own right to live.

Polls show that a majority of citizens of this state — 61 percent in the Quinnipiac University poll released Thursday — favor the death penalty for capital felony offenses. And in a 2007 Quinnipiac poll, 73 percent favored the death penalty for the murderers of my family. Yet our legislators ignore and disrespect us, the citizens and voters, by passing legislation this month that would repeal the state's death penalty and replace it with a maximum sentence of life in prison without parole.

The death penalty is lawful execution, but the General Assembly's Judiciary Committee makes it nearly impossible to implement. If the death penalty is repealed, a move will then begin to lessen the sentences of those serving life without parole, now being discussed in other states as a cost-saving measure. The legislature's priorities are clear: It plans to decrease this year's budget for the Office of the Victims' Advocate by 20 percent while increasing subsidies for convicted criminals.

The legislature and judiciary continue to allow convicted criminals, tried by a jury of their peers and found guilty, nearly endless and often baseless appeals, even when it is clear beyond a shadow of a doubt that they are guilty. One Connecticut judge recently lamented that a particular convict was on his 33rd appeal. This denial of justice not only continues to victimize the victims' families, but profligately wastes the time and financial resources of our state.

In my own case, the state's attorney has been ready to go to court since March 2008, but the defense is permitted to repeatedly postpone justice, irrespective of the evidence and the ongoing suffering of the victims' families, whose lives have been violated and destroyed.

Despite claims to the contrary, the legislature's decision would weaken the very fabric of our society by denying the justice necessary to maintain and safeguard it. In voting to repeal the death penalty, legislators have shown a lack of the courage, moral clarity and integrity to stand up for what is right.

Fortunately, Gov. M. Jodi Rell says she will veto the repeal of the death penalty when it reaches her desk. When she does, justice will be a word that represents the state of Connecticut.

Dr. William A. Petit Jr.'s wife, Jennifer, and daughters Hayley and Michaela were slain in the family's Cheshire home in July 2007.