New Jersey mansion murders spur calls for state to reinstate death penalty

The brutal killings of a New Jersey family at their burning mansion last month has spurred a group of lawmakers to call for the death penalty to be restored in the state.

Paul Caneiro, 51, was charged on Nov. 30 with killing his brother Keith Caneiro, 50; Keith's wife, Jennifer; and their two young children two days before they were to host Thanksgiving at their sleek $1.5 million mansion.

Monmouth County Prosecutor Christopher Gramiccioni has said the murder motives were “financial in nature," related to businesses the brothers were involved in, adding that the killings were one of the "most brutal" crimes he has seen.

The slayings of the Colts Neck family now have some lawmakers calling for action on legislation to reinstate the death penalty for certain crimes.

Paul Caneiro faces four counts of murder, along with arson and weapons charges, in the deaths of his brother Keith; Keith's wife, Jennifer; their 11-year-old son, Jesse; and their 8-year-old daughter, Sophia.

Paul Caneiro faces four counts of murder, along with arson and weapons charges, in the deaths of his brother Keith; Keith's wife, Jennifer; their 11-year-old son, Jesse; and their 8-year-old daughter, Sophia. (Patti Sapone/NJ Advance Media via AP)

New Jersey banned capital punishment in 2007 after a one-year moratorium, becoming the first state to legislatively abolish the death penalty since 1965.  New Jersey's current governor, Democrat Phil Murphy, is opposed to the death penalty, representatives told the New Jersey Globe.

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But Republican State Sen. Steven Oroho said Wednesday the killings showed the need for New Jersey to reinstate the death penalty.

"The horrible truth is that unless killers know the death penalty is on the table, there are monsters out there that will kill," he said in a statement. "In order to keep the public safe, we must reinstate the death penalty."

Paul Caneiro appears in Monmouth County Superior Court for a detention hearing on Friday, Nov. 30, 2018 in Freehold, N.J.

Paul Caneiro appears in Monmouth County Superior Court for a detention hearing on Friday, Nov. 30, 2018 in Freehold, N.J. (Patti Sapone/NJ Advance Media via AP,)

Oroho co-sponsored a bill with fellow GOP Assemblymen Parker Space and Harold Wirths before the murders, but was unsuccessful with moving it forward. Wirths told the Asbury Park Press that while the bill may face trouble with lawmakers in Trenton, it may have support from voters if it were to ever go on a statewide ballot.

“I’d love for this to be a ballot or referendum question,” he told the paper. “I just can’t imagine the argument on the other end."

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The lawmaker, who was acting governor in 2006 and signed the original moratorium on capital punishment, told News 12 New Jersey that even when the state had the death penalty, it had not executed an inmate since 1963.

"When we had it, it was never utilized. Appeals went on forever and they (death row inmates) were in a nursing home or on a ventilator,” said State Sen. Dick Codey.

Keith Caneiro and Jennifer Caneiro, who were found dead at their New Jersey mansion after officials responded to a fire at the home last month.

Keith Caneiro and Jennifer Caneiro, who were found dead at their New Jersey mansion after officials responded to a fire at the home last month. (Facebook)

Prosecutors have said that Caneiro is accused of setting fire to that residence as his wife and two adult daughters slept upstairs. All three safely escaped from the home.

During a court hearing on Nov. 30, Paul Caneiro pleaded not guilty to the murder charges and to arson counts stemming from both fires.

Fox News' Ryan Gaydos and The Associated Press contributed to this report.