Thursday, 20 December 2007

New Jersey Abolishes Death Penalty

TRENTON, N.J., Dec. 17, 2007

(CBS/AP) New Jersey on Monday became the first state in four decades
to abolish the death penalty under a bill signed by Gov. Jon S.
Corzine, a move being hailed across the world as a historic victory
against capital punishment.

Corzine signed the bill at a Statehouse ceremony.

"We have seized the moment and are poised to join the ranks of other
states and countries that view the death penalty as discriminatory,
immoral and barbaric," said state Assemblyman Wilfredo Caraballo, D-

The bill, approved last week by the state's Assembly and Senate, will
replace the death sentence with life in prison without parole.

A special state commission found in January that the death penalty
was a more expensive sentence than life in prison, hasn't deterred
murder and risks killing an innocent person.

"The state is taking a painful but necessary step," said Corzine, a

Among the eight spared is Jesse Timmendequas, a sex offender who
murdered 7-year-old Megan Kanka in 1994. The case inspired Megan's
Law, which requires law enforcement agencies to notify the public
about convicted sex offenders living in their communities.

The bill passed the Legislature largely along party lines, with
controlling Democrats supporting the abolition and minority
Republicans opposed.

"It's simply a specious argument to say that, somehow, after six
millennia of recorded history, the punishment no longer fits the
crime," said Assemblyman Joseph Malone, R-Burlington.

Republicans had sought to retain the death penalty for those who
murder law enforcement officials, rape and murder children, and
terrorists, but Democrats rejected that.

"A thorough examination of the state's death penalty system has
revealed it for what it truly is - a colossal public policy failure
that wastes taxpayers' dollars and diverts valuable resources from
proven crime prevention measures," said Larry Cox, executive director
of Amnesty International USA.

Although New Jersey reinstated the death penalty in 1982, six years
after the U.S. Supreme Court allowed states to resume executions, it
hasn't executed anyone since 1963.

The last states to eliminate the death penalty were Iowa and West
Virginia in 1965, according to the National Coalition to Abolish the
Death Penalty.

Under New Jersey's measure, the eight men on death row have 60 days
to decide whether to drop appeals and accept life in prison without
parole. Those who don't drop appeals retain their death sentence, but
New Jersey has been barred from executing anyone under a 2004 court
ruling that deemed invalid the state's lethal injection procedures.

The nation has executed 1,099 people since the U.S. Supreme Court
reauthorized the death penalty in 1976. In 1999, 98 people were
executed, the most since 1976; last year 53 people were executed, the
lowest since 1996.

Other states have considered abolishing the death penalty recently,
but none has advanced as far as New Jersey.

According to the Washington-based Death Penalty Information Center,
37 states have the death penalty.

States with the death penalty:

Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut,
Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Illinois, Kansas,
Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana,
Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio,
Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota,
Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Washington, Wyoming.

States without the death penalty:

Alaska, Hawaii, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota,
North Dakota, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont, West Virginia, Wisconsin.

Bills to abolish the death penalty were recently approved by a
Colorado House committee, the Montana Senate and the New Mexico
House. But none of those bills has advanced.

The nation's last execution was Sept. 25 in Texas. Since then,
executions have been delayed pending a U.S. Supreme Court decision on
whether execution through lethal injection violates the
constitutional ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

In Rome, the Sant'Egidio Community, a lay Roman Catholic organization
at the forefront of an international anti-death penalty movement,
said New Jersey's decision is a "crucial passage" for a worldwide
moratorium on capital punishment.

Rome will put golden light on the Colosseum in support. Once the
arena for deadly gladiator combat and executions, the Colosseum is
now a symbol of the fight against the death penalty.

Since 1999, the first century monument Colosseum has been bathed in
golden light every time a death sentence is commuted or a country
abolishes capital punishment.

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