New Jersey has now become the first U.S. state in four decades to ban capital punishment, the Associated Press reports.
Governor Jon S. Corzine on Monday signed into law a measure that abolishes the death penalty in the state. The death sentence is replaced with life in prison without the possibility of parole.
"This is a day of progress for us and for the millions of people across our nation and around the globe who reject the death penalty as a moral or practical response to the grievous, even heinous, crime of murder," Corzine said.
Eight men were on the state’s death row. Governor Corzine commuted their sentences to life in prison without parole.
Though New Jersey reinstated capital punishment in 1982, six years after the U.S. Supreme Court again allowed executions, the state has not executed an inmate since 1963.
"The rest of America, and for that matter the entire world, is watching what we are doing here today," said Assemblyman Wilfredo Caraballo, a Democrat. "New Jersey is setting a precedent that I'm confident other states will follow."
The bill passed the Legislature along a generally party-line vote. The Democrat majority supported the abolition, while Republicans opposed it. The Republicans had sought to retain the death penalty for terrorists, those who murder law enforcement officials, and those who rape and murder children.
"It's simply a specious argument to say that, somehow, after six millennia of recorded history, the punishment no longer fits the crime," said Assemblyman Joseph Malone, a Republican.
Some victims’ families also spoke against the law.
"I will never forget how I've been abused by a state and a governor that was supposed to protect the innocent and enforce the laws," said Marilyn Flax, whose husband Irving was abducted and murdered in 1989 by death row inmate John Martini Sr.
New Jersey’s action has received international support. The city of Rome will shine golden light on the Coliseum in honor of the decision. The ancient site of gladiatorial combat and criminal executions has become a symbol for death penalty opponents.
The U.S. Supreme Court has halted executions throughout the nation as it considers whether execution through lethal injection violates the constitutional ban on cruel and unusual punishment.