New Jersey officially bans the death penalty

Replacing the punishment with life in prison without parole, it is the first state to do so in 42 years.

death penalty 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
death penalty 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
Governor Jon Corzine signed into law Monday a measure that abolishes the death penalty, making New Jersey the first US state in more than four decades to reject capital punishment. The bill, approved last week by the state's Assembly and Senate, replaces the death sentence with life in prison without parole. The move comes as the top US court, the Supreme Court, considers the legality of execution by lethal injection. "This is a day of progress for us and for the millions of people across our nation and around the globe who reject the death penalty as a moral or practical response to the grievous, even heinous, crime of murder," Corzine said. The state's move is being hailed across the world as a historic victory against capital punishment. In support, Rome plans to shine golden light on the Colosseum, once the arena for deadly gladiator combat and executions and now a symbol of the fight against the death penalty. The new measure spares eight men on the state's death row. On Sunday, Corzine signed orders commuting the sentences of those eight to life in prison without parole. 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. New Jersey reinstated the death penalty in 1982, six years after the US Supreme Court allowed states to resume executions, but it has not executed anyone since 1963. Republicans had sought to retain the death penalty for terrorists and those who murder law enforcement officials or rape and murder children, but Democrats rejected that. Members of victims' families fought against the law. "I will never forget how I've been abused by a state and a governor that was supposed to protect the innocent and enforce the laws," said Marilyn Flax, whose husband Irving was abducted and murdered in 1989 by death row inmate John Martini Sr. 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. The United States has executed 1,099 people since the US Supreme Court reauthorized the death penalty in 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. The nation's last execution was September 25 in Texas. Since then, executions have been delayed pending a US Supreme Court decision on whether execution through lethal injection violates the constitutional ban on cruel and unusual punishment.