TRENTON – Senator Shirley K. Turner, prime sponsor of S-171, the legislation that would replace the death penalty in New Jersey with life in prison without parole, made the follow statement today after the Senate approved the bill:
“New Jersey has long struggled with the question of whether we wanted, needed or could afford to have the death penalty in our state.
“In the past, both sides of the debate have relied on arguments based on emotion to make their case, trying to back up their points with anecdotal evidence as to the effectiveness, or lack thereof, of the death penalty. More often than not, the two sides would just shout past each other.
“With the creation of the Death Penalty Study Commission, we looked to elevate the debate and bring about a resolution to this argument by looking at the facts. The Commission asked the important questions: Is the death penalty an effective deterrent? Can it be fairly and accurately administered? Is it too costly, both financially and socially?
“The answers all pointed to the same conclusion – New Jersey could no longer to afford the death penalty.
“There are some who argue that the recommendations of the Death Penalty Commission were decided before the Commission ever met. In a way, those people are absolutely right. The evidence against the death penalty has been there for a long time. All we needed was to bring it to light.
“Those who oppose the death penalty come from all walks of life. They are both liberal and conservative, Democrat and Republican. What connected all of these people was a sense of justice and a recognition that the death penalty simply doesn’t work.
“We heard from county prosecutors who no longer wanted to try capital murder cases, not because they didn’t think murderers deserved to live, but because they recognized that the death penalty wasn’t an effective deterrent and felt that the manpower and money it costs to try a death penalty case could be better spent elsewhere.
“We heard from the families of murder victims who opposed the death penalty, not out of compassion for their loved ones’ killers, but because they didn’t want other families to go through the additional anguish they felt as a result of the death penalty appeals process.
“By eliminating the death penalty, we are in no way being soft on crime. These criminals will still lose their freedom; they will still effectively lose their lives. But now they will have to live with their crimes and be reminded every day of what they did. They will grow old and feeble in jail. They will die alone.
“The evidence is clear – the death penalty is wasteful and ineffective. Today, this body can cast a vote to improve our criminal justice system by removing a penalty that is barbaric and fatally flawed beyond repair. Today we can make our society better than the criminals who seek to harm us. I encourage you all to vote with your conscience and ban the death penalty.”