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Sweeney sounds off on reinstating death penalty

Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-West Deptford) said legislation to bring back the death penalty for certain murders should not be reinstated so quickly.

Death Chamber at Southern Ohio Correctional Facility
Mike Simmons, Getty Images

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The recent murder of a Jersey City police officer has spurred Assemblyman Ron Dancer (D-Jackson) to renew the call for action on his bill to bring back the death penalty for cop killers and others. Sweeney did not completely dismiss the idea of talking about capital punishment, but he also said lawmakers should not have a knee-jerk reaction to an awful event.

“This tragedy highlights why people feel the death penalty is important, but it’s not going to be a response to this tragedy,” Sweeney said. “Reinstating or dealing with the death penalty, honestly, is more than just a quick conversation over a horrible tragedy.”

New Jersey abolished the death penalty in 2007. Under the bill sponsored by Dancer since 2011, it would be reinstated if the victim was a law enforcement officer murdered while performing official duties, or was murdered because of his or her status as a law enforcement officer. It would also be reinstated for murders involving victims under age 18 or if the murder occurred during a terrorist attack.

“The death penalty — we banned it a few years ago, to be perfectly honest with you, because we didn’t put anybody to death,” Sweeney said. “People stayed on death row indefinitely.”

Shortly after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the full New Jersey legislature unanimously approved the death penalty for terrorists, Dancer said, but that was done away with when capital punishment was repealed in the Garden State seven years ago.

“It is time for this legislature to protect our law enforcement community,” Dancer said. “When it comes to somebody who would murder a police officer, I just think there needs to be a deterrent and that deterrent is the death penalty. Reinstate it.”

Jersey City Police Officer Melvin Santiago was ambushed and shot to death by Lawrence Campbell, who was then killed by police. As horrific as the murder was, Sweeney said lawmakers cannot be reactionary.

“The death penalty is something that is honestly much bigger than just focusing on this tragedy,” Sweeney said.

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