Larry Peterson: New Jersey
When New Jersey created its Death Penalty Study Commission in 2006, Larry Peterson’s case had already become the focus of attention. Peterson was charged with capital murder and narrowly escaped the death penalty. After he spent more than 16 years in prison, the Innocence Project secured his exoneration through DNA testing in 2006.
“For the amount of time I was in, if they had put me on death row I would have been
executed,” Peterson said.
Together with Innocence Project Co-Director Barry Scheck, Peterson spoke at the commission’s first hearing. “If you take a life, you can’t turn around and correct the wrong. But if you place a man in prison for life, and later find out that he’s innocent, you can correct the wrong,” Peterson testified. Not long after Peterson testified, another New Jersey man who faced the death penalty was exonerated through DNA testing. Innocence Project client Byron Halsey was sentenced to life in prison and served 19 years for a rape and murder he didn’t commit. Peterson attended his exoneration in July 2007.
After five public hearings, the commission recommended abolishing the death penalty and replacing it with life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. Commission members cited Peterson’s testimony, and the risk of executing an innocent person, in their report to Governor Jon Corzine. In December 2007, the recommendations
became official, and New Jersey became the first state to abolish capital punishment since its 1976 reinstatement.
Seventeen of the 240 people exonerated from prison served time on death row. Many others were charged with capital murder, and still others would likely have been charged with capital crimes if the death penalty had been in place at the time of their trials. The Innocence Project supports a moratorium on executions while the causes of
wrongful conviction are fully identified and remedied.
Alan Newton in New York
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