Friday, April 25, 2008

New Book: THE ROAD to ABOLITION - How New Jersey abolished the Death Penalty

During my 30 years in the state Legislature, I never prepared statements to be delivered in committee, on the floor or at public appearances, always relying on my glibness to either captivate an audience or stumble through a presentation of my views.

The death penalty debate was different.


Lives were at risk.

The Road to Abolition is the result.

-- Senator Raymond J. Lesniak


IN 1982, as a second term New Jersey Assemblyman, I voted to reinstate the death penalty after the United States Supreme Court reversed its 1972 holding that the death penalty was cruel and unusual punishment prohibited by the Eight Amendment of the US Constitution.

My vote was based solely on the politics of the issue. The death penalty was popular. Being against the death penalty was the same as being soft on crime.

I gave no thought to the morality of the issue or to the possibility of executing an innocent person.

When Celeste Fitzgerald from New Jerseyans for Alternatives to the Death Penalty and Lorry Post from Murder Victims’ for Reconciliation visited me in 2004 to solicit my support to repeal the death penalty, they met a different person than that 2nd term assemblyman.

The 20 plus intervening years taught me that public service should not be about seeking approval, glory or fame. Trinkets. They’re nothing more than trinkets.

What should society, as fashioned by its elected officials, look like? That is now my guiding principal, as shaped by my spiritual beliefs. My spiritual beliefs lead me to envision a society that could do justice without need for revenge, without a need to take a life.

But I also knew, as a consummate politician, a power broker as called by some, if I tried to convince my fellow legislators to repeal the death penalty based on my spiritual beliefs, I would get nothing but blank stares and puzzled looks in return from most.

The resulting speeches, letters and articles reflect both my spiritual beliefs, as well as practical arguments, for repealing the death penalty.

The combination worked as New Jersey became the first state in over 40 years to legislatively repeal its death penalty.

Much more than any trinket. Much, much more.


08 Introduction
10 Report, Celeste Fitzgerald/Director New Jerseyans for Alternatives to the Death Penalty / May 01. 2006
14 Testimony, New Jersey Death Penalty Study Commission/ September 13. 2006
16 Executive Summary, New Jersey Death Penalty Study Commission/ January 2. 2007
20 Testimony, New Jersey State Senate Judiciary Committee/ May 9. 2007
24 Forum, The Star Ledger/July 30. 2007
26 Letter, To Members of the New Jersey State Senate/ November 21. 2007
30 Op-Ed, The Star Ledger/ December 3. 2007
34 Testimony, New Jersey State Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee/ December 3. 2007
38 Letter, To Members of the New Jersey State Legislature/ December 4. 2007
40 Article, The New York Times/ December 4. 2007
46 Speech, New Jersey State Senate/ December 10. 2007
50 Testimony from Family Members of Murder Victims, Assembly Law and Public Safety Committee/ December 13, 2007
56 Official Vote Tally, New Jersey State Senate/ December 10. 2007
58 Official Vote Tally, New Jersey General Assembly/ December 13. 2007
58 Statement, New Jersey Office of the Governor/ December 17. 2007
64 Remarks, Governor Corzine/ December 17. 2007
70 Article, Catholic Star Herald/ December 21. 2007
74 Speech, National Coalition Against the Death Penalty/ January 18. 2007
78 Forum, The Star Ledger/ January 20. 2008
80 Letter, California Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice/ February 13. 2008
84 Speech, “Celebration of Abolition” New Jerseyans for Alternatives to the Death Penalty/ March 1. 2008
87 Biography, Senator Raymond J. Lesniak
92 Epilogue

Details, and a link to buy the book are on-line here

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