TRENTON, N.J. – Gov. Jon S. Corzine signed into law Monday a measure that abolishes the death penalty, making New Jersey the first state in more than four decades to reject capital punishment.
The bill, approved last week by the state’s Assembly and Senate, replaces the death sentence with life in prison without parole.
“This is a day of progress for us and for the millions of people across our nation and around the globe who reject the death penalty as a moral or practical response to the grievous, even heinous, crime of murder,” Corzine said.
The measure spares eight men on the state’s death row. On Sunday, Corzine signed orders commuting the sentences of those eight to life in prison without parole.
Among the eight spared is Jesse Timmendequas, a sex offender who murdered 7-year-old Megan Kanka in 1994. The case inspired Megan’s Law, which requires law enforcement agencies to notify the public about convicted sex offenders living in their communities.
New Jersey reinstated the death penalty in 1982 – six years after the U.S. Supreme Court allowed states to resume executions – but it hasn’t executed anyone since 1963.
The state’s move is being hailed across the world as a historic victory against capital punishment. Rome plans to shine golden light on the Colosseum in support. Once the arena for deadly gladiator combat and executions, the Colosseum is now a symbol of the fight against the death penalty.
Members of victims’ families fought against the law.
Richard Kanka, Megan’s father, noted Corzine signed the bill exactly 15 years to the day that death row inmate Ambrose Harris kidnapped, raped and murdered 22-year-old artist Kristin Huggins, of Lower Makefield, Pa.
“Just another slap in the face to the victims,” Kanka said.