Friday, December 14, 2007

NEW JERSEY: Harbinger of Things to Come

NEW JERSEY Bans the Death Penalty!

"A Harbinger of Things to Come" --Maybe to come--even in TEXAS?

December 13-14, 2007

Of special interest to Journey of Hope (JOH) folk:

...Among those testifying for abolition (in New Jersey) was Vicki Schieber. Her daughter, Shannon, was murdered in 1998. She and her husband stunned prosecutors by requesting that the defendant receive life in prison instead of execution... "The death penalty is a harmful policy that exacerbates the pain for murdered victims' families," she said.
The Star-Ledger, December 11, 2007

Top Quotes on New Jersey's Big Move:

Richard Dieter, director of Death Penalty Information Center: "We'll be looking back 7 to 10 years from now and saying that New Jersey was the 1st."

"We are at a unique crossroads in the history of the state, maybe the history of the country," said former Supreme Court Justice Peter Verniero, who participated on several death penalty cases while on the bench. "New Jersey is the 1st state to repeal an entire capital punishment system. There is not a precedent for this."

The 1st state since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the sanction in 1976 to repeal an existing statute through legislative act... "I have absolutely no doubt that other states will follow our lead," the bill's sponsor, Democratic Assemblyman Wilfredo Caraballo of Newark, said during a 2-1/2-hour floor debate.

"What New Jersey does will be watched very closely by other state legislators and state officials around the country," Matthew Kennis, a field director with the international human rights group Amnesty International, said before the Assembly vote. "This is a harbinger of things to come."

Caraballo: "In the end, it's a matter of conscience."

The nation's last execution was Sept. 25 in Texas. Since then, executions have been delayed pending a U.S. Supreme Court decision on whether execution through lethal injection violates the constitutional ban on cruel and unusual punishment. Then two more exonerations just recently...

Larger background--US and international abolitionists--including four JOH folk with several exonerees and Amnesty staff--have been speaking on abolition in Italy--some of the same folk who were recent participants with The Journey of Hope in Texas. Amnesty folk have been in Rwanda during recent months as well-- where the death penalty has just been abolished.


The federal court ruled in 1972 that the death penalty violated the Constitution's Eighth Amendment, prohibiting cruel and unusual punishment, because its application could be arbitrary. In 1976, the court ruled the states had satisfied its concerns, clearing the way for its return. New Jersey, which had outlawed capital punishment in 1972, reinstated it in 1982.
Today 37 states, the federal government and the military have the death penalty. New Jersey, which has had a moratorium on executions since 2005 and hasn't put to death a prisoner since 1963...

(sources besides the top death penalty sites-- Bloomsberg News, AP)

New Jersey officials have been barred from executing anyone under a 2004 court ruling that determined the state had to revise procedures on how the penalty would be imposed; It never did.

Among those who have been executed in New Jersey in the past: Bruno Richard Hauptmann, who was executed in 1936 for the kidnapping and murder of aviator Charles Lindbergh's son.

However, the nation has executed 1,099 people since the U.S. Supreme Court reauthorized the death penalty in 1976. In 1999, 98 people were executed, the most since 1976; last year 53 people were executed, the lowest since 1996.

New Jersey Death Penalty Repeal Advances to Corzine ...A measure to replace the death penalty with a sentence of life in prison without parole passed the 80-member Assembly Thursday on a 44-36 vote. Earlier this week, the legislation cleared the state's 40-member Senate, 21-16.

More follows --but first--an INVITATION to all JOH folk , exonerees, DR inmate loved ones and murder victim family members to submit comments with your responses to this volcanic news. These glad tidings effect and strikes us all whatever our background and angle as abolitionists. Tell us and the public who read this how New Jersey's milestone affects you.

In one fell swoop here--today--are summaries of some of our major arguments, quotes, timeline and stats. This is a perfect way and week to get this in the hands of undecided or as yet uncommitted folk. Maybe this will be the time many more will say: "If not us, who? If not now, when?"

'Historic Legislation is 'A Harbinger of Things to Come'

Larry Cox, executive director of Amnesty International USA (AIUSA), released this statement following the New Jersey Legislature's vote to abolish the death penalty:

Amnesty International USA applauds the New Jersey Assembly for voting to abolish the death penalty. Contrary to what some have said, the New Jersey vote was not taken too quickly or lightly. It was only after careful study and deliberation that legislators concluded that the death penalty does not address violent crime or make New Jerseyans any safer. A thorough examination of the state's death penalty system has revealed it for what it truly is: a colossal public policy failure that wastes taxpayer dollars and diverts valuable resources from proven crime prevention measures.

The problems uncovered by this examination of the death penalty are not unique to New Jersey. Lawmakers across the country are realizing that capital punishment is permanently flawed, and the public is increasingly wary of a system that holds the very real possibility of executing the innocent. By holding criminals accountable and eliminating the possibility of a horrific error with a one-two punch, New Jersey stands to embolden lawmakers who were as fearful of eliminating capital punishment as they were of keeping it. This is a harbinger of things to come.
(source: Amnesty International)

More Excerpts
...Among the 13 states without capital punishment, some have statutes that courts overturned, others abolished it before the Supreme Court's 1976 ruling, and others never approved a death penalty law, supporters of the bill said.

...Derek Roseman, a spokesman for Caraballo, said the measure may spare the 8 men now on the state's death row. The legislation stipulates the inmates would have 60 days after enactment to decide whether they want to accept their death sentence or change it to life without parole, he said.

...Richard Dieter, executive director of the Washington-based anti-death-penalty group Death Penalty Information Center, said repeal legislation has stalled in five states -- Colorado, Nebraska, Maryland, New Mexico and Montana. He said the rate of executions nationwide slowed to 128 in 2005, from more than 300 annually in the 1990s.

...Dieter, Kennis and sponsors of the repeal legislation said the death penalty is more expensive than imprisonment, has little effectiveness as a deterrent and risks the execution of innocent people. Kennis said more than half of all democratic, western governments have done away with it... (source: Bloomberg News)

"...recognition should go out to all of the exonerees -- those who served time on death row and the numerous New Jersey exonerees who had not been sentenced to death but endured years in prison despite their innocence. They spoke out repeatedly and courageously, met with legislators, and made the most powerful voices in the movement heard over and over again. According to Abe Bonowitz, exonerees were "instrumental" in this victory...With two more death-row exonerations in the past week, it's clear that the role innocence plays in our movement will remain critical as the death penalty moves closer to becoming a relic of the past.
Kurt Rosenberg

Blogging Celeste Fitzgerald December 13, 2007So the bill to repeal New Jersey's death penalty, save millions and millions of tax dollars, divert resources to programs that actually fight crime and help victims and along the way spare family members of murder victims the terrible anguish that years and years of endless appeals cause has finally passed.
So maybe it is an appropriate time to post something on the woman who, more than any other person, was responsible for this happening. Her name is Celeste Fitzgerald and she is the head of what one imagines could be a group without an office or a staff -- New Jerseyans for Alternatives to the Death Penalty.

We offer this column, which was in New Jersey's largest newspaper Thursday morning:
Chief repeal advocate says it's time to 'close up shop' Posted by Bob Braun December 13, 2007 10:21 AM 'She took the call early in the evening. It woke her up. "Sorry," said Celeste Fitzgerald, sleep in her voice. "I'm exhausted." 'See Blog for Dec 13 07

Send short comments by clicking below or sending to

Please also check back -- as soon as this New Jersey news has a brief chance to sink in -- for a multi-dimensional mini-journal on Journey of Hope--Texas--2007 by Robin Radford

Thanks for tuning in! Connie L. Nash


CN said...

Folk, just click here on comments. Now's the time more than ever to add your voice to the cause!


CN said...

Check out for a video and photos from yesterday's successful completion of step 4 in the five final steps to abolition in New Jersey. We expect Governor Corzine to complete the process sometime in the next week.

A few news items are at