TRENTON, N.J. -- New Jersey would abolish the death penalty under a proposal pushed forward yesterday by senators amid fiery debate among lawmakers and emotional pleas from relatives of murder victims to retain the penalty.
The Senate Judiciary Committee voted 8 to 2 to release a bill that would replace the death penalty with life imprisonment without parole.
If approved by lawmakers and Governor Jon S. Corzine, New Jersey would be the first state to abolish capital punishment legislatively since the US Supreme Court allowed states to reinstate it in 1976.
The bill can now be considered by the full Senate. It hasn't received Assembly consideration, although the Assembly speaker is a death penalty opponent, as is Corzine.
The bill stems from a January report by a special state commission that found that the death penalty was a more expensive sentence than life in prison and did not deter murder.
"The death penalty has no reason to exist in a civilized society," said Senator Raymond Lesniak, Democrat of Union. "It stands in direct contrast to our evolving standards of decency."
In a separate development yesterday, New Jersey moved closer toward becoming the second state, after California, to outlaw the powerful .50-caliber rifle that critics contend could be used in terrorist attacks.