On January 22, 1963, Ralph Hudson was the last person in the State of New Jersey to be put to death by the State. Hudson was granted a “mercy” release by an Atlantic County Judge on Christmas Eve, 1960. He had finished two-thirds of a six month sentence for beating his estranged wife, Myrtle. Three days later Hudson would stalk and then stab his wife to death as Myrtle was on a break from her job as a waitress in Absecon.
The State of New Jersey was the first to legislatively abolish the death penalty since 1965 when in 2007, a bill to replace the death penalty with life without parole passed the NJ State Senate and General Assembly and then was signed into law by the then Governor Corzine.
Eight inmates on death row had their death sentences commuted to life without parole. One most notable was Jesse Timmendeqaus.
Timmendequas was on death row for rape and murder of a then 7 year old girl. Her name was and will forever be Megan. This child was a resident of Hamilton Township. It may be considered remarkable that the State Senate invited Megan’s parents to Trenton for a Senate hearing wherein they were asked to put on the record their thoughts relative to the death penalty. Their thoughts on the prospect of Timmendequas being extricated from death row. Should they have to relive the horror for what seemed at the time to be a forgone conclusion? Or perhaps it is a necessary evil by way of our legislative procedures, both in Trenton and in Washington. I am not suggesting that hearings of this type are “dog and pony shows,” I’ll leave that up to you, the reader.
On the death penalty, the brilliant United States Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia opined (see the publication ‘SCALIA SPEAKS) “do you want the death penalty? Elect those who will impose it. Do you abhor the death penalty? Elect those who will abolish it. And YOU can change your mind. If the murder rate goes up after the abolition of the death penalty, elect those who will reinstitute it. If however, the living constitutionalists have their way and declare the death penalty unconstitutional, the peoples powers to chose is eliminated.”
Remarkable as Justice Scalia always was is that he refers to “living constitutionalists”. Those who might not hold to their hearts the principles of political theorists John Locke and the founders of our great republic who would be considered “Constitutionalists”. The central purpose of Constitutionalism is the idea that government can and should be legally limited in its powers, and that its legitimacy depends upon its observing these limitations.
And so on January 22, 1963, Ralph Hudson would dine on a last supper of prime rib, polished off with ice cream and a fine cigar. He would then go to the electric chair. The same day the United States, Great Britain and the Soviet Union would sign a nuclear test ban treaty.
Ten years later to the day, the Supreme Court would legalize abortion by way of “Roe vs. Wade” and President Lyndon Johnson would die.
By golly, January 22nd. Life and death.
Pitchers and catchers only one week away!
The writer has a law practice in Hasbrouck Heights. Is admitted to practice law in the State of New Jersey, the District of Columbia, the US Federal District Court and the US Army Court of Criminal Appeals. He is a retired Major in the US Army, Judge Advocate General Corps.