New Jersey did away with its death penalty in 2007, but Lakewood’s representative in the state Senate said the cold-blooded killing of a township police officer is a striking example of why the punishment should be restored.
However, Republican Sen. Robert Singer said he and other GOP lawmakers feel capital punishment “has no chance” of coming back with Democrats holding the majority in both houses of the Legislature.
“There’s types of crime that rise to that level of punishment, whether it’s the killing of a Lakewood police officer, a mass shooting in Arizona, certain crimes against children, when just spending the rest of a life in jail is not right when the person deserves the death penalty,” Singer said.
There hasn’t been any movement on three capital punishment bills sponsored by Republicans in the current legislative session.
A Democratic senator, Raymond Lesniak of Union County, faulted Singer for “politicizing such a tragedy.”
“The death penalty won’t bring back the slain officer, nor would it have prevented this and other tragedies,” Lesniak said. “In fact it has been shown that the death penalty only contributes to more violence. States like Texas and Florida which have frequent executions have the highest murder rates.”
Police arrested Jahmell W. Crockam, 19, of Lakewood, in the Friday shooting death of township Police Officer Christopher Matlosz. Following a 38-hour manhunt, Crockam was apprehended in Camden early Sunday morning.
Former Gov. Jon S. Corzine signed a death penalty abolition law in January 2007 but the vast majority of death sentences under the former law were overturned on appeals. No one has been executed in New Jersey since 1963.
A state panel that had studied the issue leading up to the change said the punishment did not meet evolving standards of decency, the legal system couldn’t ensure an innocent person would not be executed and the state could potentially save money if the sentence was replaced with life without parole.
Celeste Fitzgerald, head of a group that lobbied for the change, said the reasons why lawmakers rolled back the law remain valid.
Matlosz’s killer, if convicted, “will receive a sentence of life without any possibility of parole and that is the appropriate sentence for this kind of crime,” said Fitzgerald, director of New Jerseyans for Alternatives to the Death Penalty.
Singer said the death penalty issue is a personal one for him.
Singer said his family “has been a victim of violent crime twice,” including when his daughter, Sarri, suffered a broken shoulder and a perforated eardrum in a June 11, 2003, bus bombing in Israel. Sixteen people died in the attack.
Singer from the Senate floor argued against eliminating capital punishment when the Legislature took it up in 2006.
Singer said Lakewood residents are still reeling from the news of the cop-killing. He said he spoke to a group at a Martin Luther King Day event in Lakewood on Monday.
“I mentioned to everyone that it’s a terrible loss for policemen who protect us and it’s terrible that a Lakewood resident allegedly did it, a double-crime for our town. This is a 19-year-old kid who’s been charged. It’s frightening. We have to do more to make sure the young people get the message that violence is wrong.”