A commission studying whether New Jersey’s unused 1982 capital punishment law should remain on the books is asking whether the nine men on death row really are the worst of the worst, says the Newark Star-Ledger. The panel will attempt to determine if there is a “significant difference” between the death row inmates and 546 other killers who could have faced execution but were spared. “I’m not moved personally by the argument that a defendant just as bad wound up with a life sentence,” said Hudson County Prosecutor Edward DeFazio, a member.
Celeste Fitzgerald of New Jerseyans for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, said such an argument is a reason to end capital punishment in the state. “You can’t get much more arbitrary than the nine death sentences that you see when there are people serving other sentences who committed very similar crimes,” she added. Perhaps more than any other state, New Jersey has procedures intended to ensure the death penalty is applied consistently. The Attorney General’s Office has guidelines to help prosecutors decide when to seek the death penalty. A grand jury must determine that at least one of a dozen “aggravating factors” — such as a prior murder — is present. A sentencing jury must find that the aggravating factors outweigh any mitigating factors, such as the defendant’s prior good record or troubled childhood.