New Jersey Abolishes Death Penalty New Jersey became the first state in more than four decades to abolish the death penalty. Gov. Jon Corzine signed into law a measure that replaced the death sentence with life in prison without parole. The law spares eight men currently on death row.

New Jersey Abolishes Death Penalty

With the stroke of the pen, New Jersey became the first state Monday in more than four decades to abolish the death penalty.

Gov. Jon Corzine signed into law a measure that abolishes capital punishment, replacing the death sentence with life in prison without parole.

"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 bill, approved last week by the state's Assembly and Senate, spares eight men currently on death row. On Sunday, Corzine signed orders commuting their sentences to life.

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.

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

New Jersey's invalidation of capital punishment is viewed as a historic victory by death penalty opponents across the world. Rome is planning to shine golden light on its Colosseum – once the arena for deadly gladiator combat and executions — in solidarity with New Jersey's decision.

The bill passed the Legislature largely along party lines, with controlling Democrats supporting repeal and minority Republicans opposed. Republicans had sought to retain the death penalty for those who murder law enforcement officials, rape and murder children, and commit terrorism.

"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, a Republican.

The U.S. has executed 1,099 people since the 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.

From NPR reports and The Associated Press

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New Jersey Poised to Ban Executions

Death penalty opponents Friday were lauding New Jersey for taking steps to abolish the practice.

New Jersey is poised to become the first state in four decades to repeal the death penalty after its legislature said it would stop state killings.

The Assembly voted 44-36 on Thursday to approve the legislation, which passed the Senate on Monday by a 21-16 vote.

Gov. Jon Corzine said he will sign it within a week.

The measure would spare eight men currently on the state's death row.

Death penalty opponents are hoping the action is the beginning of similar legislation nationwide.

"New Jersey stands to embolden lawmakers who were as fearful of eliminating capital punishment as they were of keeping it," said Larry Cox, executive director of Amnesty International USA. "This is a harbinger of things to come."

There are 37 states that dole a death penalty, according to the Death Penalty Information Center based in Washington, D.C.

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

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

The Supreme Court last lifted a ban on state-administered executions in 1976.

Although New Jersey didn't reinstate the death penalty until 1982, no one has been killed by the Garden State since 1963.

New Jersey has been barred from executing anyone under a 2004 court ruling that declared invalid the state's lethal injection procedures.

A special state commission found in January that the death penalty is a more expensive sentence than life in prison, hasn't deterred murder, and could kill innocent people.

Among the eight men who will be spared by the measure 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.

"There is no doubt whatsoever that those criminals now sitting on death row are guilty," said Assemblyman Richard Merkt, a Republican. "Yet their lives are being spared in the name of justice. Tell me then, where is the justice for Megan Kanka and her family?"

Corzine said life in prison without parole offers a more certain outcome than death penalty sentences that come with years of appeals.

"This is an issue of conscience and the responsible administration of justice," he said.

The bill gives the state's death row inmates 60 days to decide whether to waive appeals and be sentenced to life in prison without parole. If such a motion isn't made, the inmates would remain under the death sentence but would likely never be executed.

From NPR reports and The Associated Press