Panel Recommends New Jersey Abolish the Death Penalty and Replace It With Life Imprisonment

New Jersey should abolish its death penalty and replace it with life imprisonment without the possibility of parole, according to a special commission's report sent Tuesday to Governor Jon Corzine and legislators.

The report, obtained by The Associated Press, found no compelling evidence that New Jersey's death penalty, which has not been used in more than four decades, serves any purpose.

It also found abolishing the death penalty would eliminate the danger of executing an innocent person, and said the death penalty costs taxpayers more than prisoners serving life terms without parole.

"There is increasing evidence that the death penalty is inconsistent with evolving standards of decency," the report said.

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"The alternative of life imprisonment in a maximum security institution without the possibility of parole would sufficiently ensure public safety and address other legitimate social and penological interests, including the interests of the families of murder victims," the report found.

One member of the group, former Senator John F. Russo, who wrote the state's death penalty statute when executions were reinstated in 1982, dissented from the commission's findings.

The 13-member commission was formed earlier this year to study capital punishment in a state that has not executed anyone since 1963. Nine men are on death row in New Jersey, but the legislation that created the commission imposed a moratorium on executions until 60 days after the panel completed its work. No execution was imminent when the moratorium was imposed.

The state already was temporarily barred from executing anyone under a February 2004 court ruling that said the state could not execute anyone until it revised procedures on how to impose the penalty. The court had raised concerns about lack of public access to executions and whether the state could handle last-second stays issued after lethal drugs were administered.

Corzine, a Democrat, opposes the death penalty. He is the first elected New Jersey governor to oppose it since Brendan Byrne, who left office in January 1982.

If lawmakers and Corzine implement the commission's recommendation, New Jersey would become the 13th state without a death penalty. New Jersey was the third state to impose a death penalty moratorium to study the issue, behind Maryland and Illinois.

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