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New Jersey Democrats move to end death penalty

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By Michelle Malkin  •  December 11, 2007 09:35 AM

2hazards.jpg
Richard and Shirley Hazard, murdered by NJ Death Row killer Brian Wakefield

Instead of upholding the law, streamlining the appeals process, and carrying out death penalty sentences, New Jersey Democrats are moving to just give up and scrap the death penalty altogether. Yesterday, two legislative bodies took steps to repeal the death penalty–and Democrat Gov. Jon Corzine is poised to sign the bill. An Assembly vote is scheduled for Thursday:

The Legislature moved New Jersey closer Monday to becoming the first state to pass a law repealing the death penalty since it was nationally reinstated in 1976.

The state Senate passed the measure 21-16, and the Assembly Public Law and Safety Committee advanced the bill by a 5-1 vote to the full Assembly. The Assembly will take up the bill Thursday, positioning New Jersey to replace capital punishment with life in prison without parole by early next year.

Support for the repeal in the Legislature comes from different areas. Some oppose it on moral grounds, while others say the unused law — no one in New Jersey has been executed since 1963 — is unfair for victims’ families who seek swift justice but have to endure a lengthy appeals process.

“We shouldn’t have the death penalty unless we’re going to use it. And we shouldn’t use it if there is a chance of executing an innocent person,” said the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Raymond J. Lesniak, D-Union.

Senate President Richard J. Codey, D-Essex, said the best thing for victims’ families is “to be honest with them.”

“Don’t tell them we are going to execute somebody when the reality is that it’s not going to happen, at least not here in the state of New Jersey,” said Codey.

If passed by the Assembly as expected Thursday, the bill then goes to Gov. Jon S. Corzine, who has until Jan. 8 to sign the measure. Corzine has strongly indicated he will sign the bill.

A Quinnipiac poll shows 53 percent of New Jerseyans surveyed oppose ending the death penalty and 39 percent support eliminating it.

I received an e-mail from a young woman who graduated from my high school alma mater in South Jersey, Holy Spirit High School. She’s Nikki Hazard Rivera and she wanted me to share her family’s story:

The reason that I write to you is not just for my family but for families across the state of NJ. I am hoping that you may be able to help us add some much needed light to this dire situation.

Unfortunately, you may have heard of my grandparents, Richard and Shirley Hazard. They lived in Pleasantville, NJ for much of my life and many years before. In fact, some of my fondest childhood memories were created with them and in their home. Sadly, on January 18th, 2001, my grandparents’ home was the place where they died. They were brutally murdered in their home by Brian Wakefield. They were beaten, stabbed, robbed and set ablaze along with their home. Brian Wakefield was tried and convicted in March of 2003 and sentenced to death. However, that is in the process of being overturned. My aunt, Sharon Hazard-Johnson, has made it her life’s mission to see that they did not die in vain..

Mrs. Malkin, my grandparents were the mainstay and cornerstone of our family. They taught all of us, children, grandchildren and great-grand children, the right way of life and how to live. They taught us how to be self-sufficient, to work hard for what you want, and that above all love and family ALWAYS comes first. That day, my heart was broken because daughter lost her great grandparents, my dad , aunts and uncle los their parents, I lost my grandparents and we all lost two significant influences in our lives before their time. Even as painful as that is, you can’t imagine how bittersweet the birth of our twin daughters was, knowing that they would never have the honor of knowing and learning from their great grandparents.

As much as our family loved my grandparents, we weren’t the only ones. Here are just a few quotes that others have said about my grandparents and family:

* “Having grown up in our city of Worcester (Mass), it was a great pleasure in knowing all of the Hazards. Our families go so far back as to the civil war. The Troy’s often speak of your family and it is with great admiration and affection of friendships that last a life time.”

* “I personally knew the Hazards. They were fine Christian, God-fearing people who opened their home up to anyone and color had no bearing. They shared their table and their drink and they were very much in love. Mr. Hazard also had his beer every once in a while, and loved to talk about how he was spending his time since he had retired from the electric company. They didn’t deserve to die and they didn’t deserve to die they way they did. Anyone who knew the Hazard children can vouch for the fact the Hazards raised fine, upright children into fine, upright adults. I worked with one daughter’s husband, and did work with another daughter. They are some of the finest people I ever met. My heart almost stopped beating the day I heard the news of their murders. I am still haunted by Mr. Hazard’s Hazard’s visage…still see him in his easy chair next to his zero clearance wood stove, still see him sipping his beer. I don’t believe in an eye for an eye but I do believe in capital punishment for two reasons: a)I don’t want that dog to kill anyone else ever again and b)I don’t see why I should have to pay taxes to cover his incarceration costs. Posted by: Glensan on Tue Nov 13, 2007, 9:05 PM-Pressofatlanticcity.com”

But don’t take my word for it. I’d like for you to see for yourself and meet my grandparents, Richard & Shirley Hazard…

Here’s a video tribute to the Hazards:

More from Nikki:

…The reason that I write to you today, Mrs. Malkin, is that Gov. Corzine will reduce death sentences to life in prison without parole on January 8th, 2008- just 10 days short of the 7 year anniversary of my grandparents’ horrific death (NJ set to scrap death penalty) . He is an opponent of capital punishment and will use his power to abolish the death penalty even though it’s been reinstated previously in 1976. ( Daughter of Slain Couple- NJ Should Not Abolish the Death Penalty ) The people of NJ WERE NOT given the chance to voice their opinion by way of a vote on this issue at ALL. They were not given the opportunity to agree or disagree. Their voice was taken away, just as the voice of my grandparents were silenced, without their say or permission (Abolishing NJ death penalty to get lame duck treatment) .

Any assistance that you can offer by placing a spotlight on this situation would greatly appreciated. It’s unfair to Corizine’s constituents and to the victims and survivors of these crimes or any future crimes that may be committed. The American public SUPPORT the death penalty and cases such as ours strike the hearts and resonates with the people of America’s common man.

Case in point is Cheshire, CT. There a mother and two daughters were sexually assaulted, made to withdrawal money from their checking account and then their home set ablaze, leaving them tied up, to die by smoke inhalation. In the article, the writer, Ms. Marian Gail Brown, quotes a study that ” A Quinnipiac University poll cited by both Connelly and Walkley released about two weeks ago shows that 63 percent of state residents favor the death penalty for those convicted of murder and that 75 percent indicated they did in the aftermath of the Cheshire incident.” Moreover, one of Waterbury CT’s state Attorneys, John T. Wakley, was quoted as saying,” Until the events in Cheshire last summer, I had been convinced that Connecticut was moving away from [imposing] the death penalty,” Walkley said. “After Cheshire, I think that possibility is more than remote.” Another CT state attorney, John A. Connelly said, “If we didn’t have the death penalty in Connecticut, the Cheshire case would have” created a hue and cry for one. I think the Cheshire case is going to change a lot of people’s minds” and influence legislators to consider “toughening the penalties for certain crimes.” (Cheshire slayings shape death penalty views )

While I do understand how late this request is in relation to the progression of this case and situation is, you are our last hope. We have spent time in front of the media, we have sent out petitions, appeared in court ready to testify, but not permitted to do so by the courts ( see attached). All we really want is for the situation to be highlighted and focused on and the chance for the people of NJ to vote on the fate of the death penalty. No lame duck decisions allowed or approved.

Mrs. Malkin, I cannot thank you enough for your time. We so GREATLY appreciate any way that you could assist us in making this case known and the death penalty remain intact.

Thank you and God Bless you and yours.

And here’s Sharon Hazard-Johnson’s letter to the Atlantic City Press published over the weekend:

As the daughter of Richard and Shirley Hazard, who were murdered in their Pleasantville home in 2001, I know the agony of crime and the criminal justice system is real. But do not believe for one second that the death penalty is not working.

When our death-penalty statute was revised, we didn’t just start executing people. We implemented a process that is still in development. For the sake of certainty and justice, it is a process well worth the time, money and resources we have already invested. To abolish it now would be a tremendous waste of our investment and show of disrespect for victims.

The state commission that studied the death penalty didn’t even ask the real question: What or who is keeping the death penalty from being carried out and why?

Today, there is a death-row inmate in New Jersey who has exhausted his appeals. Now is the time to study the stalling tactics, get to the real issues and start administering the death penalty – an unpleasant and difficult task, but one that must be undertaken.

SHARON HAZARD-JOHNSON

Mays Landing

More families of victims killed by NJ Death Row murderers speak out here.

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