updated 1/3/2007 3:52:39 PM ET 2007-01-03T20:52:39

A special commission recommended abolishing capital punishment in the Garden State and replacing it with life imprisonment without the possibility of parole, saying the death penalty costs taxpayers more than paying for prisoners to serve life terms.

The report released Tuesday, written by a 13-member commission created in late 2005 by the Legislature, also cited other states reconsidering the death penalty, federal court moves to restrict executions of the mentally retarded and juveniles, and religious opposition to the punishment.

The governor favors abolishing the death penalty, as do leaders of both houses of the Legislature.

“There is increasing evidence that the death penalty is inconsistent with evolving standards of decency,” the report said.

The commission cited a number of conflicting studies in concluding that there is no “compelling evidence” that the state’s death penalty deters people from committing murders.

It said the state would save money by abolishing the death penalty: The public defender’s office estimated a switch would save it nearly $1.5 million a year, corrections officials said they would save roughly $1 million over the lifetime of each condemned inmate, and the courts also could see reduced costs.

Gov. Jon Corzine, a Democrat, said he would work to ensure the death penalty is taken off the books. New Jersey would be the first state to abolish the death penalty legislatively since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated capital punishment in 1976.

“As someone who has long opposed the death penalty, I look forward to working with the Legislature to implement the recommendations outlined in the report,” Corzine said in statement.

GOP objects
Republicans bashed the report’s findings. “The Democrats’ radical agenda is out-of-touch with the values of millions of New Jerseyans,” said state Sen. Nicholas Asselta.

The report was also decried by some survivors of people who were slain by the nine men now on New Jersey’s death row.

Marilyn Flax said she vividly recalled phone conversations with her husband’s killer, John Martini Sr., who was convicted in 1991 of kidnapping Fair Lawn warehouse manager Irving Flax and then murdering him after getting $25,000 of a $100,000 ransom.

“I spoke to my husband’s killer four times on the phone, hearing how he pretended to let him go,” she said. “The last words I heard from my husband, in a piercing, screaming voice, were ‘Give him the money, or he’ll kill me.’ ”

She said allowing Martini to live would be an insult.

The state’s last execution was in 1963.

If lawmakers and Corzine implement the commission’s recommendation, New Jersey would become the 13th state without a death penalty. New Jersey was the third state to impose a death-penalty moratorium to study the issue, behind Maryland and Illinois.

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