On Monday, December 17, 2007, Governor Jon Corzine signed the historic New Jersey death penalty abolition bill. It was a good day. I have some reflections on the campaign that led to this wonderful moment but first, a little “housekeeping.”
Today, I urge you to call Governor Corzine to thank him for his steady leadership on this issue. Many of you might remember that he stood with us on the steps of the State House when we rallied against the death penalty in 2000. He was then a U.S. Senator and one of the few elected officials with a public stand against executions. He deserves our gratitude. Reach him at 609-292-6000 and leave a message. Or, write to him at PO Box 001, Trenton, New Jersey 08625.
So please take a moment to enjoy some photos and short videos from the bill signing at http://deathpenaltyusa.blogspot.com/ As you will see by the many bipartisan sponsors seen by his side, Governor Corzine is no longer alone in his opposition to capital punishment!
We also need to thank the many legislators who voted yes on the abolition bill. Over the next day or two, I will send an email to NJADP members in each of the 40 state legislative districts. These emails will contain contact info and how-they-voted info all in one handy spot. Our work is not done until these legislators are acknowledged for their good work so I want to make it as easy as possible for you to contact them!
And, now I would like to take a moment to reflect on this positive achievement and to say thank you to some special people.
In 1999, NJADP founder Lorry Post made a decision that changed many lives, including my own. He decided to devote his life to ending capital punishment in New Jersey as a way to honor his only daughter, who was murdered in 1988. Lorry contacted various state and national groups and found me through my membership with Pax Christi, New Jersey , a Catholic peace organization. I was immediately inspired by Lorry’s compassion and dedication to social justice.
Lorry also found and inspired many others in those early years, including the pivotal players who went on to form the NJADP Executive Committee in 2000. These early volunteers deserve special recognition for getting involved when it was far from likely we would win. They include people like Jack Callahan, who nudged us all to get organized and strategic early on, Ed Martone, who brought years of political experience and connections to the campaign, Lois Seeligsohn, a public relations professional and long time human rights activist who taught us how to most effectively convey our message, Kevin Walsh, a talented fair housing attorney who spent many long evenings fighting executions and who won a the court-ordered lethal injection moratorium in 2004, John Goodwin, a gifted photographer and member of the United Methodist Church who has tracked NJADP in pictures, Bill Michaelson, who created the best membership database anyone has ever seen, and Janet Beddoe, Fr. Bob Schulze, Rev. Bruce Davidson, Joan Diefenbach, Sr. Liz Gnam, Jean Ross, and Bev McNally, who connected us to various religious and justice communities.
I know I speak for everyone from those early years when I say we will always be grateful to Lorry for giving us this opportunity to work with all of you to bring about this positive and historic change for the Garden State.
While Lorry and I have been the public faces of NJADP, there are many, many people who have contributed their time, talent, and hearts to this just cause. I’d like you to meet them now. They are the heroes of this campaign.
First, for those few who do not already know their names, I’d like to introduce you to the talented and dedicated staff of NJADP, the hardest working team in the country. Abe Bonowitz is NJADP’s Field Manager. Abe, a former national “Abolitionist of the Year,” has ably coordinated the NJADP grassroots education and advocacy efforts since 2006. Eddie Hicks and Lorry Post serve as field organizers, primarily sharing their own personal stories of having lost a loved one to murder. And, Joe Hand is NJADP’s recently retired administrative coordinator, who handled with grace just about anything I asked of him. Finally, Beth Wood is our amazing dataentry assistant. Thank you, Beth, for everything.
Now, please join me in saluting NJADP’s Executive Committee.Rev. Charles Atkins, Janet Beddoe, Abraham J. Bonowitz, Rev. Bruce H. Davidson, Raymond M. Deeney Esq., Ed DiFiglia, Hon. John J. Gibbons, Sr. Elizabeth Gnam, John C. Goodwin, Eddie Hicks, Ingrid Johnson, Matthew B. Johnson, Ph.D., Karl Keys, Esq., Rev. Karl Kraft, D.Min., Sandra Manning, Esq., Edward Martone, Beverly McNally, Bill Michaelson, Bill Piper, Lorry Post, Esq., Jean Ross, Esq., Laurie Schafer, MD, David Shephard, Fr. Bob Schulze, Lois Teer Seeligsohn, Eric Wachter, Kevin D. Walsh, Esq., James Wells.
These twenty-eight men and women have been the driving force behind our work for the past nine years. They have linked us to the broader community, to family members of murder victims, and to legislators who made the right decision to vote to end the death penalty. The Executive Committee provided motivation when the going got tough and was a group to celebrate with when we had victories.
I would also like to acknowledge the members of NJADP’s Advisory Committee, who have served as guides and advisors throughout this historic campaign. We will always be grateful for their sound counsel and unwavering support.
Hon. Brendan T. Byrne, Hon. Daniel J. Carluccio, Larry Cirignano, Dr. Joseph Chuman, Rt. Reverend John P. Croneberger, Episcopal Diocese of Newark, Robert DelTufo, Bishop Sudarshana Devadhar, Greater New Jersey Annual Conference, United Methodist Church, Joan Diefenbach, Esq., Director, New Jersey Council of Churches, Rev. William M. Freeman, President, General Baptist Convention of New Jersey, James E. Harris, President, New Jersey State NAACP, David Kaczynski, Hon. Nicholas Katzenbach, Rabbi Charles A Kroloff, Rabbi Eric M. Lankin, Rev. A. Roy Medley, General Secretary, American Baptist Churches USA, James McCloskey, Executive Director, Centurion Ministries, Hon. Michael Murphy, Louise Murray, Vice President for Program, League of Women Voters of New Jersey, Hon. Donald M. Payne, June Post, Murder Victims Families for Reconciliation, Sr. Helen Prejean, Hon. Sharon Ransavage, Bishop E. Roy Riley, Jr., New Jersey Synod, Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, Bud Welch, Murder Victims Families for Human Rights.
The prime sponsors of the abolition bill also deserve special recognition. Senators Raymond Lesniak (D) and Robert Martin (R) and Assemblymen Kip Bateman (R) and Wilfredo Caraballo (D) have made us all proud to say we live in New Jersey . Reach them at: SenLesniak@njleg.org * SenMartin@njleg.org * AsmBateman@njleg.org * AsmCaraballo@njleg.org
NJADP also acknowledges the many foundations who, along with countless individual donors, have supported our educational and advocacy work throughout the years. They are the Fund for New Jersey, Atlantic Philanthropies, the Tides Foundation, Open Society Policy Center , the JEHT Foundation, Amnesty International, the Catholic Campaign for Human Development, AJ Muste, and the ROCKIT Foundation. And, we would not be celebrating this wonderful victory today had it not been for our parent organization, the New Jersey Association on Correction and especially its Executive Director, James Hemm.
I would also like to take a moment to thank the 62 family members of murder victims who signed onto a joint letter to the Legislature. Some oppose executions for moral reasons and others because they believe the death penalty is a false promise that delivers nothing but more heartache for families like theirs. All of these New Jerseyans testified about the worst thing that ever happened to them so that others would be spared more pain. Please keep these and all murder victims’ families and their lost loved ones in your hearts this holiday season.
And, please also keep in your hearts the courageous exonorees in and out of New Jersey who, while dealing with the aftermath of wrongful incarceration, carried for NJADP the important message that the risk of executing an innocent person is all too real. They are Nate Walker, Juan Melendez, Kirk Bloodsworth, Ray Krone, David Shephard, Larry Peterson, and Byron Halsey. Our dear friend Nate Walker is still recovering from a stroke suffered last year. Please continue to keep Nate and his family in your prayers.
I also want to acknowledge the good work of the groups that work to free the innocent. Through their hard work they have lifted up the issue of wrongful convictions and exposed the reasons why they occur. The two local groups doing this good work are Centurion Ministries of Princeton and the Innocence Project of New York City.
The members of the New Jersey Study Commission also deserve our thanks. Every one of the thirteen members served with distinction and followed their conscience. Together, they helped lead New Jersey to a better place.
There are also many state groups that deserve recognition. I cannot possibly list them all here so I again guide you to the NJADP web site for a complete list of 200 New Jersey groups whose work contributed to this wonderful change for our State. Thank you, thank you, thank you t o each and every one of these groups.
There are many groups and individuals beyond New Jersey ‘s borders that have provided technical, consulting, and other assistance to this campaign. They are also too many to list but I do want to mention three who have been outstanding long time partners, Equal Justice USA (www.quixote.org/ejusa), the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty (www.ncadp.org), and Amnesty International. I also want to thank our friends and colleagues in the neighboring states of Pennsylvania, New York, and Connecticut for crossing the rivers to help out when we needed them, and also our friends and colleagues across the nation who have worked for years to expose the death penalty’s many failures, thus sparking a national rethinking of capital punishment that contributed to this moment.
I particularly want to thank my talented colleague at Equal Justice USA, Shari Silberstein, for her friendship and support, Peter Loge and Ronald Tabak, Esq. for their always sound advice, Richard Dieter of the Death Penalty Information Center for his assistance with checking facts and information, Kurt Rosenberg and the Witness to Innocence Project for assistance reaching out to the wrongfully convicted, our good friends from the Journey of Hope, MVFR, and MVFHR, Vicki Schieber of Maryland, Sam Millsap of Texas, and Jennifer Thompson of North Carolina for their grace and courage, and Sr. Helen Prejean for never saying no when New Jerseyans asked her to come here to speak! And, I cannot leave out our hard working group of “phone bankers” from as far away as Ohio and California , who made calls to members when our message was urgent and needed immediate action. I am pleased to report that they enjoyed the experience of connecting with our devoted NJADP members.
Several New Jersey professionals who have given of their time and talent deserve our thanks today. They are Jim Harkness of the Riker Danzig law firm, Michael Murphy of ImpactNJ, and Pete McDonough of Winning Strategies Public Relations.
We will forever be grateful for the leadership of the Gibbons law firm of Newark and Trenton . Known for its commitment to social justice, the Gibbons firm gave above and beyond to this campaign, especially Judge John J. Gibbons, David Pascrell, Claudia Van Wyk, and the tireless David Filippelli.
New Jersey ‘s public defenders, and especially those in the capital defense section, deserve our deep and lasting gratitude for their fine work. When I think of these men and women, I am reminded of the parable of the rescuers trying to keep people from drowning in the river. One group of rescuers stays down river to pull out those already caught in the current. A second group goes upstream to keep people from falling in the river in the first place. For all these years, they have been our side by side partners for justice. We salute them.
And, finally, thank you to all of the NJADP members who provided financial support, wrote letters to legislators and newspapers, set-up events in church basements and synagogues, and attended hearings. Our work involved changing hearts and minds of New Jerseyans who once believed the death penalty was a good thing. I know that it was your conversations with legislators, friends, and family, and your witness to the brokenness of the system, that brought us to where we are today. You should be proud to have been a part of making the world a better place.
Sr. Helen Prejean said New Jersey is a beacon for the rest of the world. She is right. I would only add that the beacon that is New Jersey is made up of thousands of individual lights that together shine brightly to the nation and the world. We – you – are those lights. Thank you.
In peace, Celeste
Director, New Jerseyans for Alternatives to the Death Penalty
973-635-6396 Chatham Office
609-278-6719 Trenton Office