Thursday, July 20, 2006

New Jersey one step closer to death penalty ban

Yesterday, New Jersey's Death Penalty Study Commission took testimony both for and against executions. Its report (with suggestions for the legislature) is due in November. At that point, the state legislature will vote to abolish capital punishment in New Jersey.

I'd like to see the death penalty abolished here in my state. So yeah, I'm totally biased. After interviewing Kirk Bloodsworth (who's the first American ever exonerated from death row with DNA evidence) I had no doubt whatsoever that the death penalty was both morally disgusting and ridiculous public policy. Let's hope enough of our legislators feel the same way to ban the death penalty in New Jersey.

Taking time out of her busy schedule prosecuting crime (and bailing her boyfriend out of trouble) was Attorney General Zulima Farber, who joined a host of others on the panel which also included (among others) NJADP chief Celeste Fitzgerald, and former state Sen. John Russo, who introduced the bill in 1982 to allow executions in this state.

Russo (click pic to enlarge) got an earful from the first witness, Bishop John M. Smith, head of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Trenton. Russo wondered if supporting the death penalty makes him a "bad Catholic."

"No," the Bishop shot back, "Just out of touch!"

The Bishop continued, "We vigorously oppose the death penalty which is inconsistant with the standards of human decency."

Amen to that.

(As a Catholic myself, I am glad to see the Church on my side on this issue. Now if only I could get the Vatican to accept that I will not burn in hell because I'm gay. But that's another story....)

The second witness was Sharon Hazard-Johnson, who came to support the death penalty after her perents were savagely and methodically killed in their home. Mrs. Hazard-Johnson thinks her parents' killer should be executed. As emotional and painful as it was to hear her story, I believe her testimony was uncompelling simply because it was so emotional. If you take the emotions and grief you're left with little in her statement. No disrespect to Sharon Hazard-Johnson, but cooler heads must prevail on this on. Lives are at stake.

Also on the witness list was lawyer Barry Scheck (pic), codirector of the Innocents Project in New York, who said the state's law allowing execution was adopted during the "dark ages."

"It was a different era then," Schreck said while gazing over at Sen. Russo, "We are now in the DNA era."

Shreck (who you might remember from his testimony at the OJ trial) cited 182 post-conviction exonerations based on DNA testing as proof positive that mistakes can happen and do happen .
click pic to enlarge. That's Kirk Bloodsworth on the right with his wife. Take a look at Mrs. Bloodsworth's grief-stricken face and remind yourself that mistakes have happened. Another former death row inmate (whose name i forget) sits at right.

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