11 May 2007

history in the making...new jersey bill to abolish death penalty clears senate judiciary committee...

yesterday was amazing...just a day after tennessee executed philip workman (see posts on this critical case at my other blog http://blogs.amnestyusa.org/death-penalty) the new jersey senate judiciary committee voted 8-2 in favor of legislation that would abolish their death penalty and replace it with life without the possibility of parole...i am so proud of the 7 years worth of work that is behind this small step...the most amazing thing is the way that they have organized murder victim's family members against the death penalty (yes, read that line again)...here's their press release...peace out <3

Vote to implement study commission recommendations comes after testimony by victims’ family members, law enforcement, and others

Trenton – The New Jersey Senate Judiciary Committee voted today to pass S-171, a bill to replace the death penalty with life without parole, to the full Senate floor.

The vote came after several hours of public testimony featuring members of the New Jersey Death Penalty Study Commission, which was formed when New Jersey lawmakers enacted a moratorium on executions last year.

“The study commission set up by the legislature spent six months holding hearings, conducting research, and examining the death penalty from every angle,” said Celeste Fitzgerald, Director of New Jerseyans for Alternatives to the Death Penalty. “They reached an overwhelming consensus in favor of life without parole over the death penalty. It is only logical that the legislature is acting to implement that recommendation.”

Among those testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee today were West Orange Police Chief James Abbott and Hudson County Prosecutor Ed DeFazio, representing the County Prosecutors’ Association. Both members of law enforcement began their work on the study commission favoring the death penalty, but after examining the facts concluded that the system was broken and should be scrapped.

“What I learned throughout our six months of study opened my eyes to the reality of the death penalty,” Chief Abbott told the Judiciary Committee today. “It turned out that what sounded good in theory was actually a complete failure in practice. Most importantly, what I learned about the death penalty convinced me that there was simply no way to fix it and make it right.”

The New Jersey Death Penalty Study Commission was a bipartisan group of 13 members that included two sitting prosecutors, the police chief, a former Supreme Court justice who had upheld death cases, murder victims’ family members and victims’ advocates, and others.

“This was a tough on crime commission of law enforcement, victims’ family members, and other experts,” Fitzgerald continued. “They looked at the facts and heard from the people of New Jersey that it was time for the death penalty to go. Today’s committee vote is simply one more reflection of the public sentiment that the death penalty has been a miserable failure and a distraction from meaningful public safety policies.”

The legislation passed by the Judiciary Committee included a recommendation that any funds saved by replacing the death penalty with life without parole be used to expand services for homicide survivors. That provision was also adopted from the study commission’s recommendation after the commission heard testimony from more than a dozen victims’ family members who supported abolishing the death penalty and pleaded for increased services to support their healing.

Yesterday, a coalition of more than 50 family members of murder victims released a letter to the Judiciary Committee in support of the legislation. “To be meaningful, justice should be swift and sure,” they wrote in their letter. “Life without parole, which begins immediately, is both of these; the death penalty is neither.”


Celeste Fitzgerald
New Jerseyans for Alternatives to the Death Penalty
Chatham Office: (973) 635-6396
Trenton Office: (609) 278-6719

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