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 on the floor of the Senate:
“We shouldn’t have the death penalty unless we’re going to use it. And we shouldn’t use it if there is a chance of executing an innocent person.
“One of our founding fathers, Benjamin Franklin, an author of both the Declaration of Independence and our Constitution, believed it was better to set guilty people free than to imprison an innocent person. This legislation not only doesn’t set any one free, it also imprisons the guilty for the rest of their lives without parole.
“Human beings make mistakes. A mistake with the death penalty is deadly. Only recently, it was discovered that thousands of convictions in New York State were put in question because of shoddy laboratory practices. 60 minutes recently reported about an FBI investigative technique, that traced bullet fragments to specific ammunition boxes, had no scientific basis.
“To minimize the risk of executing an innocent person, there is a lengthy appeal process. A process that families of murder victims have called painful. Most victims’ families have asked that we replace the death penalty with a life sentence without parole to spare them from the added pain that the lengthy review process causes them to bear.
“It took nearly 20 years to clear Byron Halsey who confessed to brutally raping a 7 and 8 year old boy and girl, driving nails into the brain of the boy and beating and strangling the girl to death. He also failed a polygraph test. A more heinous crime is hard to imagine. But for the grace of God, working through one juror, Brian Halsey would have been sentenced to death. To those who want to preserve the death penalty for heinous crimes, you should know that Brian Halsey was innocent and 20 years later was able to walk out of jail a free man.
Most of the free world countries, including Israel and the Vatican, do not have a death penalty. Libya, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan and North Korea do. The most executions in the United States take place in the states that have the highest murder rates.
“Our county prosecutors believe the resources necessary to investigate and prove the added elements of a death penalty case could be better used against gangs, gun runners and drug dealers.
“We shouldn’t have the death penalty unless we’re going to use it. We’re not going to use it. We shouldn’t use it. Let’s end it now.”