WHEN Governor Jon Corzine signed legislation repealing New Jersey's death penalty on Monday, there were many people for whom he had good words.
In what The
But there were some people Corzine forgot to mention.
The governor forgot Kristin Huggins. She was the 22-year-old graphic artist kidnapped in 1992 by Ambrose Harris, who stuffed her into the trunk of her car, then let her out in order to rape her and shoot her twice - once in the back of her head, once point-blank in the face.
The governor forgot Irene Schnaps, a 37-year-old widow butchered by Nathaniel Harvey in 1985. After breaking into her apartment and robbing her, he killed her with 15 blows to the head, using a "hammer-like" weapon with such violence that he fractured her skull, broke her jaw, and knocked out her teeth.
The governor forgot Megan Kanka, who was just 7 years old when she was murdered by a neighbor, Jesse Timmendequas. A convicted sex offender, Timmendequas lured Megan into his house by offering to show her a puppy. Then he raped her, smashed her into a dresser, wrapped plastic bags around her head, and strangled her with a belt.
In fact, the governor forgot to mention any of the victims murdered by the men on New Jersey's death row. He signed an order reducing the killers' sentences to life in prison, and assured his audience "that these individuals will never again walk free in our society." But he spoke not a word about any of the men, women, and children who will never again walk at all - or smile, or dream, or breathe - because their lives were brutally taken from them by the murderers the new law spares.
That's the way it so often is with death-penalty opponents like Corzine: In their zeal to keep the guilty alive, they forget the innocents who have died. Their conscience is outraged by the death penalty, but only when it is lawfully applied to convicted murderers after due process of law. The far more frequent "death penalty" - the one imposed unlawfully on so many murder victims, often with wanton cruelty - doesn't disturb their conscience nearly so much.
Nor do their consciences seem overly troubled by the additional lives lost when capital punishment is eliminated.
A widening sheaf of studies (some by scholars who personally oppose the death penalty) have found that each time a murderer is executed, between 3 and 18 additional homicides are deterred. To mention just one example, University of Houston professors Dale Cloninger and Roberto Marchesini studied the effect of the death-penalty moratorium declared by Illinois Governor George Ryan in 2000, and Ryan's subsequent commutation of every death-row inmate's sentence. Result: an estimated 150 additional murders in Illinois over the subsequent 48 months.
New Jersey hasn't executed anyone since 1963, so the new law may be largely symbolic. But there is nothing symbolic about all the blood shed since the death penalty was abandoned 44 years ago. In 1963, there were 181 homicides in the Garden State. By 1970 there were more than 400, and by 1980, more than 500. In 2002, state officials calculated that on average, a murder was committed in New Jersey every 25 hours and 41 minutes.
While the murder rate since 2000 has declined modestly across the country, it has "jumped 44 percent in Jersey, up from 3.4 murders per 100,000 people to 4.9," writes Steven Malanga of the Manhattan Institute. "Jersey's increase in murders has been the sixth-highest in the country."
That may explain why 53 percent of the state's residents opposed the death-penalty repeal, according to a new Quinnipiac poll, while 78 percent favored retaining it for "the most violent cases." Perhaps they grasp the truth that eludes the politicians in Trenton: When the death penalty is unavailable, more innocent victims die.
Jeff Jacoby's e-mail address is [email protected]