WASHINGTON - January 9 - Amid growing national concern over flaws with capital
punishment, the New Jersey Assembly Monday approved a one-year ban on
executions in the state and said it would study how the death penalty
If, as expected, the legislation is signed by New Jersey’s outgoing
governor by Monday, Jan. 16, New Jersey will become the first state
since executions resumed in the 1970s to enact legislation establishing
a moratorium. Two other states – Illinois and Maryland – enacted
moratoriums as a result of executive orders but not as a result of
state legislative action.
The bill passed Monday on a vote of 55 to 21 with two abstentions;
previously, it had passed the Senate on a strong bipartisan vote
of 30 to 6. NCADP helped its affiliate, New Jerseyans for Alternatives
to the Death Penalty, by mobilizing death penalty opponents in New
Jersey and urging them to contact their state senators.
New Jersey’s action comes at a time when voters increasingly are
questioning whether innocent people are sentenced to death. Just
last month, the Houston Chronicle published an investigative series
strongly suggesting that a person executed in Texas, Ruben Cantu,
may well have been innocent. This week, DNA tests could show whether
Roger Keith Coleman of Virginia was innocent of the crime for which
he was executed in 1992.
“Across the country, people are becoming increasingly aware that the
death penalty risks executing the innocent and discriminates on the
basis of race, geography and whether one can afford a good lawyer,”
said Diann Rust-Tierney, executive director of the National Coalition
to Abolish the Death Penalty. “New Jersey legislators are responding
to this growing awareness. No one wants an innocent person to
spend even one day on death row, much less be executed.”
Rust-Tierney noted that two other states, California and North Carolina,
have approved bills creating commissions that will study the death penalty.
She predicted that within the next two years a number of states will debate
abolition and moratorium bills, other death penalty reforms and bills
to examine capital punishment.