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New Jersey lawmakers vote to abolish death penalty

  • Story Highlights
  • New Jersey Assembly passes death penalty bill 44-36; Senate passed it Monday
  • Gov. Jon Corzine has already said he will sign the measure
  • Bill will make New Jersey the first state in more than 40 years to ban execution
  • Nearly 1,100 people have been executed in U.S. since death penalty's return in 1976
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From Bill Mears
CNN
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(CNN) -- New Jersey lawmakers have voted to abolish the death penalty in the state, sending the governor a bill he has already said he will sign. The measure will make New Jersey the first state in more than 40 years to outlaw capital punishment.

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New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine, in a file photo, has said he'll sign the bill abolishing the death penalty.

The bill will make life in prison the most severe penalty for convicted murderers in the state, including the eight men currently on the state's death row. New Jersey has not put anyone to death since 1963, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.

The state Assembly approved the measure 44-36 Thursday, following up Monday's 21-16 approval in the state Senate.

A spokesman for Democratic Gov. Jon Corzine said the bill probably will be signed into law within a few days, after the exact text is reviewed closely.

"The governor has said for quite some time that he supports the bill," said spokesman Jim Gardner.

No Death Penalty

Alaska
Hawaii
Iowa
Maine
Massachusetts
Michigan
Minnesota
New York
North Dakota
Rhode Island
Vermont
West Virginia
Wisconsin
(District of Columbia)

Source: Amnesty International

The bill was introduced in November, after a state commission concluded capital punishment does not prevent violent crime, and could lead to innocent people being executed.

Some Republicans had argued police killers and terrorists should still be eligible for execution, but Democrats, who control both houses, backed the change.

"This vote marks a new chapter in our nation's 30-year experiment with capital punishment," said Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, which opposes executions.

"New Jersey lawmakers are demonstrating sound judgment in abandoning capital punishment after learning of its costs, the pain it causes victims' families, and the risks the death penalty poses to innocent lives."

The Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976, and nearly 1,100 people have since been put to death. Capital punishment is used by 37 states, most using lethal injection of chemicals. Electrocution, the gas chamber, hanging, and the firing squad are still on the books in some states.

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The most recent execution in the United States took place September 25 in Texas.

A de facto moratorium has been in place since the Supreme Court decided to review lethal injection procedures used on the majority of capital defendants. Oral arguments in the case will be held January 7 and, depending on how the high court rules, executions could be postponed indefinitely.

The last states to ban the death penalty were West Virginia and Iowa in 1965.

Among those on death row in New Jersey is Jesse Timmendequas, whose murder of 7-year-old Megan Kanka in 1994 led to reforms in tracking sex offenders. The state's Megan's Law requires local law enforcement agencies to give notification when convicted sex offenders live or work in neighborhoods. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

CNN's Mythili Rao contributed to this report.

All About Capital PunishmentCriminal Sentencing and PunishmentNew Jersey

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