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A year later, state assesses justice without death penalty

Resource type: News

The Star-Ledger (Newark, New Jersey) |

Rudy Larini

Star-Ledger Staff

State Sen. Raymond Lesniak likes to share important moments in life with friends and family through photographs on his holiday greeting cards.

Four years ago, they featured Lesniak in top hat and tails as grand marshal of New York’s Pulaski Day parade. Last year, there was a 2-year-old boy with cerebral palsy, the son of a drug addict, who was being adopted by friends.

This year’s card captures the image of Gov. Jon Corzine signing the repeal of New Jersey’s capital punishment law one year ago this week, a bill Lesniak sponsored. New Jersey became the first state to repeal the death penalty through legislation since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated capital punishment in 1976.

“It was momentous. I believe it was one of the most significant achievements of my life and I wanted to celebrate it with my friends,” said Lesniak (D-Union), who wrote a book about the bill.

A year later, prosecutors and defense lawyers agree the demise of the death penalty has had no discernible impact on the way would-be capital cases are prosecuted in New Jersey.

And while the philosophical debate over the death penalty has not changed, some say a new law that has prison without parole as the most severe penalty is better than a capital punishment law with what seemed like an unending appeals process. Since the state reinstated capital punishment in 1982, there were no executions, even though 60 defendants had been sentenced to death.

“I don’t think it’s made much of a difference at all other than that some of the cases that were languishing out there are now getting tried,” said Richard Pompelio, executive director of the New Jersey Crime Victims Law Center. “The important thing for crime victims is that the process have an end, and with the death penalty there never was an end.”…

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