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New Jersey Votes to Abolish Death Penalty

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New Jersey lawmakers voted 44 to 36 on Thursday to abolish executions in the state. Democratic Governor Jon Corzine has said he will approve the measure next week. This will make New Jersey the first state in the United States to abolish the death penalty in forty years. We speak with Lorry Post, an organizer with New Jerseyans for Alternatives to the Death Penalty. He founded this group to honor his daughter who was murdered in Georgia in 1988. [includes rush transcript]

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.


In New Jersey, a historic vote against the death penalty, lawmakers voted forty-four to thirty-six Thursday to abolish executions in the state. New Jersey’s Democratic Governor, Jon Corzine said he will approve the measure next week. This will make New Jersey the first state in the United States to abolish the death penalty in forty years.

The repeal follows the recommendation from a state commission report that the death penalty was expensive, did not have a deterrent effect and risked killing an innocent person. It described the death penalty as “inconsistent with evolving standards of decency.” New Jersey will now replace the death penalty with a sentence of life without parole.

The decision comes at a time when the US Supreme Court is taking up the question of whether lethal injection violates the constitutional ban on cruel and unusual punishment; lethal injection, the most frequently used method of performing executions.

Lorry Post joins us now, an organizer with New Jerseyans for Alternatives to the Death Penalty. He founded the group in 1999 to honor his daughter, who was murdered in Georgia in 1988. He’s a retired legal aid attorney. He has just been named the director of Murder Victims’ Families for Reconciliation. Lorry Post, joining us from Philadelphia, welcome to Democracy Now!

LORRY POST: Good morning, Amy.

AMY GOODMAN: It’s good to have you with us. Were you in Trenton yesterday when the vote came down?

LORRY POST: Oh, I certainly was. I was there and thrilled by the outcome, as you might expect, after working for all these years on this subject that I think is so doggone important.

AMY GOODMAN: Why do you feel it is so important? And tell us your own story about the loss of your daughter.

LORRY POST: Well, yeah, I’ll start with that. My daughter was murdered. It was domestic violence nineteen years ago. Her killer, her husband, received a twenty-year sentence. I was, as my wife describes me, a zombie for the next ten years, sitting around waiting to die. And then, one day, about nine years ago or so, I took up this topic, because I was trying to save the life — I was asked as an activist, a legal aid lawyer —- someone asked me to save the life, try to save the life, of a Pedro Medina in the state of Florida. But we worked to save Pedro’s life and had his Holiness the Pope send a letter to the governor of Florida, but in the long run, we failed. He was executed, and his head was set on fire. And my wife and I said, you know, what is this about justice, where -—

AMY GOODMAN: Explain, Lorry Post, what you mean by his head was set on fire.

LORRY POST: It was a botched execution. Florida, three times with the electric chair, botched executions, and Pedro was one of them. And they set his head on fire, as simple as that, or as horrible as that, I should say. And we thought, why this one man who kills, stabs a woman to death — that woman happened to be our daughter — why does he get twenty-year sentence, and another man who stabs a woman to death, his next-door neighbor, why does he get executed by us, as citizens of this country, and has his head set on fire?

From that moment on, I became alive. I took up this cause with some others. And now, in New Jersey, we’ve grown to a 12,000-person organization of, I would like to say, a well-oiled machine. But we’re not that; we’re just a bunch of volunteers.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, you certainly succeeded. In fact, in your core group, there are others like you who have lost their children or loved ones who were murdered and yet are standing up now against the death penalty in New Jersey. Explain how you organized to accomplish this. The governor says he’s going to sign this next week. It’s going to end the death penalty in New Jersey, first time in a state in this country in forty years.

LORRY POST: Yeah, I’ll explain that, but you made a point about, yes, victims’ family members. I don’t want to miss saying this. We started out, it was just my wife and myself, and for a couple years, we were the only victim family members and kind of a little bit felt like freaks. You know, everyone — the common wisdom was that if you lost a family member, especially a child, to murder, you would want that person killed, so we thought standing alone. Then I found this organization. You know, I wasn’t the founder. It was there, and we joined it: Murder Victims’ Families for Reconciliation, where people felt that way, and then since — against the death penalty. And then, from that day to this day, there are now sixty-two of us in New Jersey — I mean, sixty-two that have joined up, and we didn’t recruit them or anything. And we all signed a letter to the legislature and the governor, saying we want this abomination of the death penalty ended.

And your question about organizing, Amy, it was just hit or miss at the beginning. Whoever — wherever two or more people would gather, I would be there if they’d invite me. Mostly churches, synagogues, schoolrooms, rotary — whoever would hear me — many times agreeing, many times in opposition. I debated on television and radio others who felt differently than I did. And it just grew from there. And mostly from religious faith groups were our greatest ally, clergy and folks from churches and synagogues who would join our group, and it just kept growing.

AMY GOODMAN: Were you particularly surprised by anyone or any group that joined you — not at the beginning, perhaps a group that fought you or a person who did, but then came around?

LORRY POST: Yeah. This is something I personally didn’t have too much to do with, but law enforcement. You expect law enforcement — and I have to be honest, I would say probably the majority of law enforcement might be on the other side, but they — maybe a very strong and vocal minority felt as we do, that this is wrong, this is the wrong kind of punishment. We want full punishment for people, but we want to lock them away; we don’t want to kill them. And that’s the argument I’ve made. Others make different arguments. But we become like the killers ourselves, if we coldly, calculatedly, deliberately kill someone as a people. We diminish ourselves as people, especially in this great nation. We shouldn’t be about killing people unless absolutely necessary. And absolutely necessary is only, in my mind is only, self-defense or the defense of others.

AMY GOODMAN: Lorry, has this lessened your pain at all?

LORRY POST: I would say, yes. People applaud me for going out and doing this and say, “I don’t know how you can do it.” Well, there is a selfish motivation, as well as trying to do a good deed, and that is that it’s been tremendous therapy for me. I do this work, and I think of Lisa. I have her with me all the time. When I was a legal aid lawyer, as you mentioned earlier, she was proud of the work I did for racial justice, for economic justice, what little I could do, and I know she’s proud of me right now. So it certainly lessens my pain, and I was just talking to my wife about that the other day and saying, you know, I started to cry more lately like the old days I cried so much, and I couldn’t understand why. And it suddenly struck me that if this situation is ending, I feel somehow, you know, I might be going a little bit way from her. But recently, I was selected to be the director of that Murder Victims’ Families for Reconciliation organization, so I’ll still be doing this, so Lisa will still be with me.

AMY GOODMAN: Lorry Post, thanks so much for joining us and having the courage to act. Lorry Post, founder of New Jerseyans for Alternatives to the Death Penalty.

LORRY POST: Thank you, Amy.

AMY GOODMAN: Thank you so much.

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