NJ May End Death Penalty, Other States Too?

In a move that could be influential elsewhere, New Jersey legislators will start considering this week whether to abolish the state’s death penalty and may well do so. If that happens, it will be the first time since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated capital punishment in 1976 that a state has eliminated its death penalty.

The death penalty already is suspended in New Jersey, under a legislative moratorium passed in 2005. Two proposed bills that come before the state Senate’s judiciary committee this week call for capital punishment to be replaced by life imprisonment without parole, reports Reuters. The state has nine prisoners on death row, but has not had an execution since 1963.

Sen. Ray Lesniak, a Democrat who sponsored one of the bills, originally supported the death penalty but now opposes it. “We have seen so many cases of innocent people being sent to death row, it’s just not worth taking the chance,” he says. But Sen. Nicholas Asselta, a Republican who favors the death penalty, says DNA testing should prevent wrongful executions and capital punishment is needed. “How can you not impose the death penalty on people like Osama bin Laden?” he says.

Both senators predict that the death penalty will be abolished by the full Senate.

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