HARTFORD -- Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, without ceremony or public participation, on Wednesday signed the repeal of the state's death penalty, which has been used twice since 1960.

The repeal takes effect immediately and turns future capital felonies into "murder with special circumstances" that will put the state's most heinous criminals in prison without the possibility of release.

"Although it is a historic moment -- Connecticut joins 16 other states and the rest of the industrialized world by taking this action -- it is a moment for sober reflection, not celebration," said Malloy, a former prosecutor, in a statement shortly after he signed the bill.

"Many of us who have advocated for this position over the years have said there is a moral component to our opposition to the death penalty," Malloy said. "For me, that is certainly the case. But that does not mean -- nor should it mean -- that we question the morality of those who favor capital punishment. I certainly don't. I know many people whom I deeply respect, including friends and family, that believe the death penalty is just. In fact, the issue knows no boundaries: not political party, not gender, age, race, or any other demographic. It is, at once, one of the most compelling and vexing issues of our time."

The signing of the bill coincided with the day the latest Quinnipiac University Poll, found an even split among 1,745 registered voters, with 46 percent in favor of the death penalty and an equal number in support of life in prison without parole.

"As our state moves beyond this divisive debate, I hope we can all redouble our efforts and common work to improve the fairness and integrity of our criminal justice system, and to minimize its fallibility," Malloy said.

Last year the legislation to repeal the death penalty failed in the Senate, amid lobbying by Dr. William Petit, of Cheshire, whose wife and two daughters were killed in a 2007 home invasion. Their two killers are now on death row.

Connecticut is the 17th state, plus the District of Columbia, to adopt a repeal. The General Assembly followed a path similar to New Mexico, whose lawmakers voted to repeal in 2009, leaving two men on death row. It's the fifth state in five years, including Illinois and New Jersey, whose governor's commuted the sentences of condemned inmates; and New York, where the state Supreme Court ruled capital punishment unconstitutional.