NEW YORK (AFP) — New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine on Monday signed a law approved by lawmakers last week abolishing the death penalty in the northeastern US state.
Sunday the Democratic governor commuted the sentences of eight inmates, sentenced to death, to life in prison with no chance for parole.
"Today New Jersey evolves. 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.
"I have been moved by the passionate views on both sides of this issue, and I firmly believe that replacing the death penalty with life in prison without parole best captures our State's highest values and reflects our best efforts to search for true justice," he said.
John Holdridge, the director of the ACLU's Capital Punishment Project, hailed the news as "a powerful message to the rest of the nation and the world that the death penalty is not only a grossly improper use of government power, but also the ultimate denial of civil liberties."
New Jersey became the first US state in four decades to vote to abolish the death penalty on Thursday when the Democratic-controlled state assembly passed the law by a vote of 44 to 36.
The state Senate had voted along the same lines the preceding Monday, and Corzine had repeatedly voiced support for the measure and vowed to sign it into law by January.
New Jersey was one of the states that reinstalled the death penalty after the US Supreme Court overturned an earlier ban in 1976, but it has observed a freeze on executions since 2005 along with nearly two dozen other states.
Iowa and West Virginia were the last states to vote to abolish executions in 1965. Executions are currently legal in 37 states.
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