The Sunday Philadelphia Inquirer reported, "N.J. leaders trying to end death penalty."
With the backing of Gov. Corzine and its two top Democratic legislators, New Jersey may soon become the first state to legislatively abolish the death penalty since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the ultimate punishment three decades ago.
Legislative leaders have called for a vote before the current lame-duck session ends in early January. The timing would allow almost a quarter of the state lawmakers - 27 who are retiring or were defeated this fall - to vote during their final weeks in office without fear of political consequences.
The move to end capital punishment has been fueled by waning public support for executions, doubt about its deterrence, and growing worries about the fairness of a significant number of convictions, said Assembly Speaker Joseph Roberts, the Camden County Democrat whose party controls the lower chamber.
Corzine, Roberts, and Senate President Richard J. Codey (D., Essex) all back changing the law to substitute life without parole for the death penalty.
Corzine "is quite passionate about this," Lilo Stainton, his press secretary, said last week. "He's always been staunchly opposed to the death penalty. He just feels it's morally wrong."
The Assembly is scheduled to vote on the measure Dec. 13. The Senate hasn't set a date, but Codey has pledged it will take the matter up before the session ends Jan. 8.
The effort gained momentum early this year when a New Jersey study commission voted, 12-1, to recommend that the state drop the penalty.
"There is increasing evidence that the death penalty is inconsistent with evolving standards of decency," the panel wrote. Among other factors, the commission cited polls indicating growing support among New Jerseyans for sentences of life without parole, and the U.S. Supreme Court decisions since 2002 banning execution of retarded or juvenile killers.
The commission added: "Executing a small number of persons guilty of murder is not sufficiently compelling to justify the risk of making an irreversible mistake."
Earlier coverage of developments in New Jersey is here.