New Jersey replaces death penalty with imprisonment for life

New Jersey lawmakers approved the death penalty ban. New Jersey will be the first U.S. state to do so in 42 years, if the governor signs the bill.

The majority of assembly members voted to replace death penalty with imprisonment for life. The northeastern Senate has already approved the bill. Now the ball is in Gov. Jon S. Corzine’s court. He said he will sign the bill within a week.

In January special state commission found out that execution of death penalty is more expensive than imprisonment for life, not deterring murder and taking risks of killing an innocent person.

"We would be better served as a society by having a clear and certain outcome for individuals that carry out heinous crimes," Corzine said. "That's what I think we're doing, making certain that individuals would be imprisoned without any possibility of parole."

The bill will save eight men sentenced to death, including Jesse Timmendequas, who sexually offended and murdered 7-year-old Megan Kanka in 1994. That case sparked Megan’s Law that requires the authorities to inform public about sex offenders living in their community.

Marilyn Flax, whose husband was kidnapped and murdered by death row inmate John Martini Sr., said the thought that Martini will live alive "while my innocent, loving, adoring husband lies in a grave’’ made her furious.

"I feel the system has spit on me, has slapped me and I am fuming," Flax said.

Republicans said that is why they opposed the bill.

Assemblyman Richard Merkt said the bill was "a victory for murderers and rapists."

"It does not benefit families. It does not benefit New Jersey society. It does not benefit justice," he said.

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

Democrats control the Legislature.

Although New Jersey reinstated the death penalty in 1982, six years after the U.S. Supreme Court allowed states to resume executions, no one has been executed in the Garden State 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.

New Jersey has been barred from executing anyone under a 2004 court ruling that determined the state had to revise procedures on how the penalty would be imposed; It never did.

The United States 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.

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 United States' 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.

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