TRENTON – Senator Ray Lesniak, sponsor of S-171/2471, the bill that would eliminate the death penalty in New Jersey and replace it with life in prison without parole, made the follow statement today before the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee:
“A few months ago I hosted a reception at my home in Elizabeth to welcome back Brian Halsey to the community. Brian spent 19 years in prison for murdering an 8 year old boy and a 7 year old girl. The boy was sexually assaulted, large nails were hammered into his brain and his face was slashed with scissors. The girl was brutally raped, beaten, and strangled to death. He confessed to the crime and failed a polygraph test.
“Only one juror refused to vote to sentence Halsey to death. 19 years later DNA evidence proved Halsey did not commit the crime.
“There are hundreds of Brian Halseys throughout the United States who were wrongly convicted of murder. No doubt, some were sentenced to death and executed. You can’t say it can’t happen in New Jersey. It can. It’s impossible for human beings to devise a system free of the risk of human error.
“It’s difficult to think of a more heinous crime than the Halsey case. Yet we almost made a fatal mistake. A mistake for which there is no cure. Despite the wonders of science, we have not found a way to bring someone back from the dead.
“There are some who believe that keeping the death penalty is worth the risk of killing an innocent person. I don’t. But the possibility of killing an innocent person is not the only reason to do away with the death penalty.
“Think of the families of the victims. While we did hear testimony before the Judiciary Committee in favor of the death penalty from a wife and a mother who had their loved ones murdered , we also heard from dozens of others who were against the death penalty. Most stated that the lengthy appeal process brought extra and unnecessary suffering into their lives.
“Simple solution. Shorten the appeal process. Not so simple. The lengthy appeal process is necessary to decrease the chance of executing an innocent person.
“Then there’s the cost of the death penalty. To me, it’s the weakest reason to repeal the death penalty, but it should be noted that the New Jersey Death Penalty Study Commission reported that the costs of the death penalty are greater than the costs of life in prison without parole.
“More important is the waste of money and law enforcement officers’ time spent investigating and proving the factors necessary in a death penalty case. Money and time that could be put to better use fighting gangs, gun runners and drug dealers.
“There are those who would single out types of crimes, like child sexual abuse and types of victims, like police officers, or children, or senior citizens, to keep the penalty of death. But an innocent person can be sentenced to death under any of these exceptions.
“Some would keep the death penalty for terrorists. Yet terrorists are the least concerned with the death penalty. They blow themselves up and fly planes into buildings. “Being executed would only serve to make them martyrs in the eyes of their followers. They belong in jail for the rest of their lives without any chance of parole.
“Thousands of murders have been committed in New Jersey since I voted to reinstate the death penalty in 1982. Only a handful of those murders resulted in a death sentence. What makes those sentenced to death different from the others? Nothing, other than the sentence of death itself.
“Repealing the death penalty under the legislation before you today will put more murderers in jail for the rest of their lives, relieve victims’ families of added pain and suffering and allow law enforcement officials to concentrate more on gangs, gun runners and drug dealers.
“Repealing the death penalty will also guarantee that we will not execute an innocent person.
“The United States is one of the few countries in the world that has a death penalty, keeping company with the likes of Iraq, Iran, North Korea, Libya and Afghanistan. Let’s change the company we keep starting here in New Jersey.”