DEATH PENALTY FOES ASSAIL NEW JERSEY DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS
CHARGE AGENCY WITH HIDING DOCUMENTS, PREDICT BUNGLED EXECUTIONS
Witnesses waiting to testify at a New Jersey State Department of Corrections (DOC) hearing on February 4 packed the hearing room and overflowed into the hallway. Scores of people registered in advance for an opportunity to present oral and written testimony on the DOC’s antiquated policies for execution by lethal injection.
The public hearing was the first in the agency’s history, and DOC Supervisor of Legal and Legislative Affairs, Ronald I. Bollheimer, appeared unprepared for the large turnout. Audience members complained bitterly when no microphones were provided for witnesses and Bollheimer strictly enforced a three-minute time limit, cutting many witnesses off mid-sentence.
The hearing, at the Office of Administrative Law in Mercerville, followed a public outcry over the DOC’s failure to comply with a court order that struck down existing DOC regulations for killing by lethal injection. The Appellate Court order last year banned executions in New Jersey, until the DOC submits "medical evidence" of employing “the most reversible process possible,” in case of a last-minute stay. The court also ordered access by media and the public to the entire execution process.
When New Jerseyans for Alternatives to the Death Penalty (NJADP) challenged DOC regulations in 2003, the Appellate Court in February 2004 ruled that “. . . a death penalty cannot be carried out under these regulations.”
In an attempt to lift the ban, last September the DOC proposed two new regulations for executions. They included use of Pavulon, a chemical that paralyzes condemned inmates prior to execution to conceal any suffering they experience. Ironically, state animal cruelty laws ban the use of Pavulon in euthanizing animals.
Calling DOC’s new proposals “purely symbolic,” NJADP leaders distributed copies of what they said was the only “medical evidence” on lethal injection DOC submitted to the court. It was a two-page unsigned memo from prison staff physician Dr. Ralph Woodward. In a disclaimer, Woodward said his memo was “entirely hypothetical” and does “not constitute factual data.”
When asked what antidote would be used to reverse the killing drugs, Bollheimer said he would research what was available and claimed he had not decided which drugs he would use and, until he did, he would not know how to reverse them.
While the memo lists a physician and nurse among “minimum required personal” (sic) at executions, the American Medical Association and the New Jersey State Nursing Association ban physicians and nurses from participating in the killing of human beings.
The Court has not yet indicated that the proposed regulations are acceptable or lifted its moratorium on executions; yet, Bollheimer told those at the hearing that the new regulations are a “final ruling.”
When NJADP lead attorney, Kevin D. Walsh, was asked how the DOC could make a final ruling before complying with the court’s order, “I don’t know. I’m mystified.”
“This is evidence of a bungling system that the DOC shrouds in secrecy,” said NJADP Director Celeste Fitzgerald. “The DOC has not complied with the Court’s order; instead, it signaled its inability to draft or implement regulations that pass legal or ethical muster.”
Calling the capital system a “broken and wasteful system,” Fitzgerald pointed to the system’s record 70% of capital cases overturned for serious error here, and the fact that the death penalty system costs millions more tax dollars than sentences of life without parole.
“Those millions could be spent on crime prevention, victim services and winning convictions,” she added. “Sentences of life without parole provide swift and certain justice, allows families to begin healing and eliminates the very real risk of executing the innocent here.”
Reporters asked Fitzgerald what action she expects the DOC to take after the hearing.
“We hope and expect they acknowledge that their regulations are faulty, arbitrary, risky and unreasonable, and withdraw them from consideration,” she said. “If they don’t, we’re prepared to take further action. We’re in this for the long haul.”
Among witnesses at the hearing were legal and medical experts, loved ones of murder victims, relatives of people who have been executed and innocent former death row inmates who narrowly escaped death when they were exonerated and freed. Death penalty proponents, if they were present at the hearing, did not ask to speak. Anti death penalty testimony was presented by scores of witnesses, including:
Felicia Floyd, whose father killed her mother. The State of Georgia killed her father. [AUDIO]
Jane Barnebei, described her son’s execution – and evidence that he was innocent. [AUDIO/Lorry Post]
Edith Frank, murder victim's family member and member of the Board of Directors of the League of Women Voters, New Jersey. [AUDIO]
Eddie Hicks, retired Atlantic City fire fighter, opposed execution for his daughter’s killer. [AUDIO]
Andrea Kaneko, juror in the James Landano trial. Landano was wrongfully convicted of murder and spent more than a decade in prison. [AUDIO]
Bill Babbitt. Promised by police his mentally ill brother wouldn’t be executed, he turned him in, and then saw him put to death. [AUDIO]
Michael Murphy described how ordering an execution haunted his stepfather, NJ Governor Richard J. Hughes. [WRITTEN TESTIMONY]
Kirk Bloodsworth served nine years on death row, before DNA proved he was innocent. [AUDIO]
Celeste Fitzgerald described NJADP’s six-year grassroots campaign against the death penalty.[AUDIO]
Kevin Walsh, Esq., detailed NJADP’s legal challenge against the DOC.
Stanley Van Ness former State Advocate and defense attorney in the case that led to NJ’s death penalty being discontinued in 1972.
Juan Roberto Melendez-Colon spent 18 years on death row before the real killer’s taped confession, which had been concealed by prosecutors, was uncovered. [WRITTEN TESTIMONY]
June and Lorry Post, of Cape May, believe their murdered daughter deserves a better memorial than another killing in her name. They fought execution of her killer.
Bill Piper, son of a murder victim, testified about how the death penalty process affected his family. [WRITTEN TESTIMONY]
Dr. Matthew Johnson documented the short and long-term traumatic effect of executions on correction officers, wardens, chaplains and others who witness or participate in the killings. [AUDIO]
Molly Weigel, murder victim's family member speaks of her family's tragedy. [AUDIO]
Since the death penalty was reinstated in 1977, 948 people have been executed. During the same period, in 23 of the states allowing execution, at least 118 people awaiting execution on death row were proven to be innocent and freed. Nearly 3,500 now await execution on death rows in America.
A grassroots group of some 10,000 members, New Jerseyans for Alternatives to the Death Penalty has campaigned since 1999 for an end to the capital punishment. NJADP is core group of an alliance of more than 200 New Jersey organizations comprising 120,000 members. For more information, call 609-278-6719 or visit www.njadp.org