TRENTON - Gov. Corzine today signed into law a bill abolishing the death penalty, prompting a famous nun in attendance to declare: "We can call it Beacon of Hope Day."
Sister Helen Prejean, whose story was dramatized in the film Dead Men Walking, said, "The word will travel around the globe that here is a state in America that shows that life is stronger than death."
In Rome tonight, the Colisseum - "the oldest symbol of state killing" - will be lit to commemorate the milestone, she said.
New Jersey is the first state to legislatively end capital punishment since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976.
Asked at today's signing if other states might follow New Jersey's lead, Corzine replied, "I certainly hope so."
His primary objection was a moral one, he said. "An endorsement of violence begets violence."
The ban would save money, prevent innocent people from being put to death, and even bring closure to victims' families, he added.
Money spent on endless appeals could now be directed to help those families, he said. "This long, drawn-out process is also extremely painful."
The signing ceremony was crowded with the bill's Republican and Democratic sponsors and other supporters of the abolition.
With his fellow Democrats providing most of the votes, the General Assembly and State Senate last week approved the measure under which convicted people facing death would instead receive life without parole.
Before that, the high court had halted all executions for four years and overturned all death sentences in the nation.
Corzine has long been on record as opposing the capital punishment. He says he doubts it has any deterrent effect and is concerned that an innocent person might be executed by mistake.
The New Jersey Catholic Conference, many former prosecutors and a group of relatives of murder victims had all urged New Jersey to abolish the death sentence. As a practical matter, the opponents of capital punishment said, no one has been executed in New Jersey since 1963. Eight men currently sit on death row in the state.