The State of New Jersey last December became the first state to abolish the death penalty since the U.S. Supreme Court in 1976 allowed states to impose the death sentence. The legislature enacted the measure after a special state commission recommended the abolition a year before. New Jersey has not executed since 1963. After the 1976 Supreme Court decision, New Jersey reinstated the death penalty in 1982.. The state had chosen lethal injection and built an elaborate facility to carry out the injections, but never used.
The commission found the death penalty was more expensive than life in prison and had not deterred murder. The legislature’s bill was approved by Governor Jon Corzine, a death penalty opponent, December 27. 2007.
New Jersey’s replacement of the death penalty with life without parole spared eight inmates. Juries had sentenced four dozen people to the death penalty, but all but eight had been overturned in appeals. A state appeals court ruled that the state’s lethal injection procedure was unconstitutional, and the state rewrote the procedures, but they were never finalized and expired in 2005.
One of those awaiting execution was Jesse Timmendequas, a sex offender whose crimes sparked Megan’s Law. Timmendequas was convicted of murdering 7-year old Megan Kanka in 1984. As a result New Jersey enacted a law requiring law enforcement agencies to notify the public about convicted sex offenders living in their communities. Other states have copied this law, certainly including Oklahoma.
Last year, the legislatures in Nebraska, Montana, Maryland and New Mexico debated bills to repeal those states’ death penalties, but each measure failed, often by a slim margin. Oklahoma continues to enforce the death penalty and shows no indications of repeal. However, It will be interesting to see if other states find that life imprisonment is less expensive and change their laws, which could cause Oklahoma to rethink this position as well.