After hours of sometimes emotional testimony, a New Jersey Senate committee yesterday approved a bill that could make the state the first in three decades to repeal capital punishment, reports the Newark Star-Ledger. The measure would repeal New Jersey’s 24-year-old, never-used death penalty and replace it with life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. “Only in New Jersey” could such action come two days after federal authorities foiled a terror plot to kill soldiers at Fort Dix, said Sen. Gerald Cardinale, one of two Republicans who voted no. He argued for keeping capital punishment as a “tool” to help prosecutors extract information from terror suspects.
Sen. Raymond Lesniak argued that death is no deterrent to terrorists intent on becoming martyrs. Hudson County Prosecutor Edward DeFazio said terrorist murders likely would be prosecuted under federal law, which provides the death penalty for such crimes. Both argued that New Jersey’s failure to carry out an execution since it reinstated capital punishment in 1982 shows that the system is broken. “Punishment has to be swift and sure. That’s not what we’re getting,” said DeFazio, who served on a commission that recommended replacing capital punishment with life without parole. In the day’s most emotional testimony, Sharon Hazard-Johnson pleaded not to jettison the death penalty just when it has a chance of being carried out. With a gold-framed portrait of her murdered parents beside her, Hazard-Johnson described how they were “savagely beaten, stabbed and set on fire” by a death row inmate. “If the death penalty is broken, fix it, don’t get rid of it,” Hazard-Johnson said, choking back tears and pounding the table.