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New Jersey Abolishes Death Penalty

With the stroke of the pen, New Jersey became the first state Monday in more than four decades to abolish the death penalty.

Gov. Jon Corzine signed into law a measure that abolishes capital punishment, replacing the death sentence with life in prison without parole.

"This is a day of progress for us and for the millions of people across our nation and around the globe who reject the death penalty as a moral or practical response to the grievous, even heinous, crime of murder," Corzine said.

The bill, approved last week by the state's Assembly and Senate, spares eight men currently on death row. On Sunday, Corzine signed orders commuting their sentences to life.

New Jersey reinstated the death penalty in 1982, six years after the U.S. Supreme Court allowed states to resume executions. It hasn't executed anyone since 1963.

Iowa and West Virginia were the last states to eliminate the death penalty, in 1965, according to the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty.

New Jersey's invalidation of capital punishment is viewed as a historic victory by death penalty opponents across the world. Rome is planning to shine golden light on its Colosseum – once the arena for deadly gladiator combat and executions — in solidarity with New Jersey's decision.

The bill passed the Legislature largely along party lines, with controlling Democrats supporting repeal and minority Republicans opposed. Republicans had sought to retain the death penalty for those who murder law enforcement officials, rape and murder children, and commit terrorism.

"It's simply a specious argument to say that, somehow, after six millennia of recorded history, the punishment no longer fits the crime," said Assemblyman Joseph Malone, a Republican.

The U.S. has executed 1,099 people since the Supreme Court reauthorized the death penalty in 1976. In 1999, 98 people were executed, the most since 1976; last year 53 people were executed, the lowest since 1996.

From NPR reports and The Associated Press

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