During the last period in which capital punishment was legal in New Jersey between 1982 and 2007, the state executed no one — and hasn't in close to 60 years.

Since December 2007, the death penalty has been abolished in the Garden State. At that time, the sentences of the eight inmates on Death Row were commuted to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Of those, John Martini died in prison in 2009, with Ambrose Harris and Nathaniel Harvey following in 2020.

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Some of New Jersey's most notorious criminals remain alive and behind bars, however, including Jesse Timmendequas, whose rape and murder of 7-year-old Megan Kanka in 1994 prompted the federal Megan's Law movement to identify registered sex offenders.

Where does the death penalty still exist?

New Jersey's suspension of capital punishment made the state the first in the United States to do away with the death penalty in more than four decades. Twenty-four states still have it on the books as of 2022, and Pennsylvania, California, and Oregon are currently under governor-imposed moratoriums.

Yet the New Jersey law signed by then-Gov. Jon Corzine has not exactly been the final word on executions in the Garden State.

How far have NJ lawmakers' attempts at reinstatement gone?

Several times per recent legislative sessions, according to searches on the New Jersey Legislature's website, the topic has been introduced and reintroduced, usually in the context of bringing back capital punishment for "certain murders."

Two particular attempts that garnered attention were in 2016, by Sens. Steve Oroho and Jeff Van Drew (now a congressman), and two years later, by Assemblyman Ron Dancer.

Both bills sought to reinstate the death penalty for murders committed against law enforcement and corrections officers in the line of duty or because of their line of work, against victims under the age of 18, or within an act of terrorism.

A 2016 New Jersey 101.5 Twitter poll revealed nearly 90% public support for such conditions.

The Oroho-Van Drew measure went further by specifying the under-18 provision as in the course of a sex crime, and added stipulations for those convicted of a prior murder or who murder more than one person during the commission of a singular criminal act.

Neither piece of legislation advanced through the full Legislature.

Dancer and Oroho, along with Assemblymen Parker Space and Hal Wirths, have all reintroduced measures in the current legislative session.

With previous reporting by Sergio Bichao.

Patrick Lavery is a reporter and anchor for New Jersey 101.5. You can reach him at patrick.lavery@townsquaremedia.com

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