Esty, Murphy Bringing Gun-Violence Prevention Leaders as Guests at SOTU; Larson Bringing James Tillman

By:  Daniela Altimari
Hartford Courant

The New Britain police chief, a man who spent more than 16 years in prison for a crime he did not commit and the father of a child killed in the Sandy Hook school shootings will be in the audience at President Obama's State of the Union address.

Sen. Chris Murphy is bringing Mark Barden, whose son, Daniel, was among the 20 first-graders killed in the December, 2012 shootings. Barden is the co-founder of Sandy Hook Promise, which is dedicated to preventing gun violence.

"Mark’s resolve and resilience in the face of unthinkable horror inspires me each and every day. He turned anger and crushing grief into action and empowerment,” said Murphy. “At President Obama’s final State of the Union, where I hope he will challenge each and every member of Congress to finally stand up to the gun lobby and take action on the issue of gun violence, I’m proud that Mark will be by my side.”

Rep. Elizabeth Esty is also bringing a guest related to the cause of gun control: she will be accompanied by New Britain police Chief James Wardwell.

"He has been a real leader on gun-violence prevention,'' Esty said. Wardwell's work in other areas of law enforcement, including heroin addiction and cyber crimes.

"He's a humble guy who is doing a great job,'' Esty said of Wardwell, a 22-year veteran of the department.

Rep. John Larson has invited James Tillman, who was released from prison in 2006 after serving 18 years for a rape he did not commit.

Democratic leaders in Congress have called upon their members to bring a person of the Muslim faith to the State of the Union speech, as a symbolic rebuke of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, who has called for a ban on Muslims entering the U.S.

Rep. Joe Courtney invited Dr. Mohammed Qureshi of Marlborough, a Norwich primary care physician and the president of a mosque that was the target of an anti-Islamic attack, to be his guest.

Esty said she is "fully supportive" of the idea put forth by Democratic leaders but had already invited Chief Wardwell. "I had made my decision earlier,'' she said.