NJ governor has ‘blood on his hands’ for COVID-release convict accused of murder
TRENTON — A Republican state lawmaker who voted against an early release process for prisoners during the pandemic has said that the governor has “blood on his hands again,” after one of the inmates released in the fall was charged with murder.
Sen. Michael Testa, R-Cumberland, has been a vocal critic of the early release law signed by Murphy in October after being passed by state legislators in close votes in both the Assembly and state Senate.
Ronny L. Paden, now a Delran resident, was charged with two counts of murder for shooting two people at a party in Edgewater Park in January, according to the Burlington County Prosecutor’s Office.
According to information from the state Department of Corrections, he would have been eligible for release as of June 25, based on his conviction for aggravated assault.
"The killer should have remained locked up where he couldn’t hurt anybody, but Murphy chose to open up the cells and let criminals go free,” Testa said in a written statement.
The law called for a four-month credit to be applied for each month served during a pandemic, capped at eight months.
That meant that inmates offered the pandemic credit for early release from prison were “maxing out” and coming home within a year’s span anyway, American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey policy director, Sarah Fajardo, previously said to New Jersey 101.5.
After Paden's arrest last week, Burlington County Prosecutor Scott Coffina voiced concern that the early release process during the public health crisis had sparked a different public safety issue.
“Due to ‘COVID credits’ applied to his sentence, this defendant and many other inmates have been released early from duly-imposed sentences without any individualized consideration of the crime for which they were convicted or the risk that they will resume their criminal activities," Coffina said in a written statement on May 19.
"A risk assessment is done before a defendant is released from pretrial detention, while the presumption of innocence still attaches; no less of an assessment should be done for people who actually have been convicted of a crime, especially a violent crime," he continued.
Inmates convicted of first-degree murder and aggravated sexual assault, or repetitive and compulsive sex offenders were not eligible for early release under the law.