TRENTON — Two state lawmakers are looking to reverse New Jersey's landmark ban on the death penalty and restore the punishment for serious crimes.
On Monday, Senators Steve Oroho (R-Sussex) and Jeff Van Drew (D-Cape May) introduced a bill that would restore capital punishment in certain murder cases, citing recent terror attacks and fatal ambushes of police officers across the United States as examples of crimes warranting the death penalty.
New Jersey eliminated capital punishment nearly a decade ago, and the measure would have to be approved by the Democrat-controlled state Legislature in order to pass. Previous attempts to roll back the prohibition have failed in recent years, and opponents who shepherded the state death penalty ban into law vowed to fight any effort at repeal.
But its sponsors say recent events merit a fresh look at allowing capital punishment in "extreme" cases.
According to a copy of the bill obtained by NJ Advance Media on Monday, it would restore capital punishment in cases including the murder of a police officer; the murder of a child in commission of a sex crime; deaths caused by an act of terror; killings committed by those who have previously been convicted of murder; and for serial killers.
In a statement announcing the introduction of the bill, Oroho cited the case of Ahmad Khan Rahimi, the man accused of planting bombs in New Jersey and New York in a botched terror plot in September, in advocating for a return to capital punishment.
But even if the bill were currently law, Rahimi himself wouldn't likely face the death penalty, because despite causing widespread panic and injuries, the string of bombings caused no fatalities.
In an interview, the senator said the accused Elizabeth bomber was used as an example.
"There could have been significant fatalities had it actually gone off as planned," Oroho said, adding that he hoped the possibility of capital punishment would serve as a deterrent to future plots.
Sen. Ray Lesniak, a key sponsor of the legislation banning capital punishment in the Garden State, said on Monday that the testimony that led to its passage included the family members of major crime victims who opposed answering killing with more killing.
He also said the specter of wrongful convictions should give pause to anyone looking to reinstate the death penalty.
Van Drew, a Democrat who said he voted against the repeal of the death penalty, said there was "no question that it has to be used very sparingly, only in circumstances where there is clear proof" such as a confession or DNA evidence.
Lesniak said he did not expect the bill to pass.
"We haven't had the death penalty for almost 10 years now, and we're not going to back to the dark ages," Lesniak said.
Ari Rosmarin, the public policy director for the state chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, which fought for the death penalty ban, said capital punishment in New Jersey "is in the dustbin of history, where it belongs."
"Lawmakers submit thousands of bills every year that will never see the light of day in an effort to generate a headline," Rosmarin said in an e-mail. "This is one of them."
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