At least 361 people have been executed in New Jersey, dating back to colonial times, the first being the execution of a slave on the charge of rape. Except for 12 executions of slaves by burning in the early 18th century, executions in New Jersey were by hanging until 1909, and electrocution thereafter. New Jersey as the infamous honor of also being the place where the first electric chair was designed by Harold Brown and Arthur Hennelley at Thomas Edison’s New Jersey laboratory in 1888.
After the 1972 US Supreme Court decision in Furman v Georgia, which declared several states’ death penalty statutes unconstitutional, New Jersey did not pass revised legislation until 1982. A state appeals court ruled in 2004 that New Jersey’s procedures for administering the death penalty were unconstitutional. The state rewrote the procedures but never finalized them, and they expired in 2005. In 2005, New Jersey lawmakers voted to suspend executions while a study commission examined the fairness and expense of the state’s death penalty, making New Jersey the first state to impose a moratorium on executions through legislation. In 2007, a bill to replace the death penalty with life without the possibility of parole passed the state Senate and General Assembly and was signed by Gov. Jon Corzione. In so doing, New Jersey was the first state to legislatively abolish the death penalty since 1965 and the 14th to do so overall. From 1982 until abolition in 2007, no person on death row was executed.