TRENTON – Senator Raymond J. Lesniak made the following statement before the New Jersey Death Penalty Study Commission today:
“In 1982, I voted to reinstate the death penalty in New Jersey. I was wrong. Thank God, no one has been executed to date. And thank God, no innocent person was executed. As the saying goes, ‘There but for the grace of God….’
“We now have an opportunity to right the wrong. It is not my intention to debate the moral aspects of the death penalty. I believe it is immoral. Others disagree. That’s a debate that should take place in another forum.
“I’m here to voice my opinion that the death penalty should be replaced by a life sentence without parole and that the death penalty is not a deterrent to murder; that its cost in tax dollars is wasteful spending; and that there is no way to create a foolproof system to prevent the execution of an innocent person.
“My heart goes out to every family devastated by the murder of a loved one. They have every right to be angry and to express that anger. But I’m certain that – deep down – not one of them would want to act out on that anger. As a society, we should not act out of anger either.
“You’ve heard the mounting evidence that the death penalty is not a deterrent to murder.
“You’ve heard that the cost of the death penalty – due to costly State and Federal appeals mandated by the New Jersey Constitution and the Constitution of the United States- far exceeds the expenses of life imprisonment.
“And, you’ve also heard that hundreds of innocent people have been sentenced to death, and no doubt some of them have been put to death because human beings make mistakes.
“What I want to emphasize is that there is no fool-proof system to avoid convicting an innocent person. Eyewitnesses often are mistaken and people strangely confess to crimes they did not commit. To paraphrase Benjamin Franklin, it’s better that 100 guilty persons are set free, then one innocent person suffer.
“I’m not asking that anyone be set free. I’m just asking, that rather than the death penalty which is irreversible when executed, we not play God. Let’s just instead require that people convicted of murder spend the rest of their lives in prison with no possibility of parole.”