NEW JERSEYANS FOR A DEATH PENALTY MORATORIUM                                         
22 Oliver Street, Chatham, New Jersey 07928

CONTACT: Celeste Fitzgerald - 973-635-6396 (days/evenings) or 973-495-5302 (cell)


MCGREEVEY VETOES DEATH PENALTY STUDY BILL                                                          


Governor James E. McGreevey incurred widespread shock and criticism yesterday (Mon., Jan. 12), as he vetoed the New Jersey death penalty study bill. Backed by hundreds of citizens groups statewide, as well the heads of every major religion in the state, the bill A-1913 passed with overwhelming support in the State Legislature.  In addition, recent polls report a majority of state citizens, including death penalty proponents, favor a study. 

“This isn’t about merging highway authorities. This is about a system that determines who lives and who dies," said Celeste Fitzgerald, Executive Director of New Jerseyans for a Death Penalty Moratorium (NJDPM).  “Polls show a majority of New Jerseyans have serious concerns about that system, and the Governor won’t even examine it.”  Fitzgerald added, “His veto flies in the face of reason and completely ignores potential risks and flaws in New Jersey’s death penalty. The Governor's decision is inexplicable and his position is extreme.”

According to language in the study bill, a commission would have examined  whether New Jersey’s “interest in executing some of those guilty of murder is sufficiently compelling that the risk of an irreversible mistake is acceptable” and “whether New Jersey’s selection of defendants for capital trials is arbitrary, unfair, or discriminatory.” Also questioned was whether the death penalty is “consistent with evolving standards of decency.”

“We are appalled that Governor McGreevey has disregarded the will of a majority of New Jersey citizens,” said Sandra Manning, NJDPM Chairperson.  “By his action, the Governor sent a message to New Jersey that fundamental issues of fairness, consistency, and accuracy don’t matter.” Comprising more than 10,000 members, NJDPM is core group of more than 200 affiliated faith, justice, labor and community organizations statewide. 

New Jersey’s U.S. Senators, Jon Corzine and Frank Lautenberg, wrote the governor last month, urging him to sign A-1913. They citied “serious questions” about the administration of the death penalty and urged a “…careful review before the state reinstates executions.”

Assemblymen Alfred E. Steele (D-Paterson) and Christopher "Kip" Bateman (R-Somerset) initially introduced A-1913. Its companion, Senate Bill S-1112, was sponsored by Senators Shirley Turner (D-Mercer) and Richard Bagger, now retired (R-Union/Morris. Thirty Democrats and Republicans signed on as co-sponsors.  The Assembly passed A-1913 December 15 by a 70-8 vote. The Senate passed it unanimously December 11.

Praising sponsors and supporters from both parties, Fitzgerald said, "The State Legislature is to be commended for acknowledging the broad spectrum of citizen concerns as New Jersey approaches its first execution in 41 years.  They responded to a complex issue with a reasonable, comprehensive approach."

Many believe New Jersey’s study would have been the most important review of the death penalty in U.S. history, and would serve as a model for other states. Justice experts say the state’s first execution in 41 years is expected to be carried out in 2004. The state's last execution was January 22, 1963.