New Jersey's state assembly yesterday voted 44-36 to abolish the death penalty - the first state to do so since Iowa and West Virginia scrapped the punishment in 1965.
The move was prompted by a special state commission's findings that the death penalty was "a more expensive sentence than life in prison, had not deterred murder, and risked killing an innocent person".
Wilfredo Caraballo, a Democratic assembly member, said: "It's time New Jersey got out of the execution business. Capital punishment is costly, discriminatory, immoral, and barbaric. We're a better state than one that puts people to death."
Governor Jon Corzine has said he will sign the bill before January, and in future those who would have previously been executed will face life imprisonment without parole.
The decision means a reprieve for eight men on New Jersey's death row, including Jesse Timmendequas whose 1994 murder of seven-year-old Megan Kanka led to "Megan's Law", which "requires law enforcement agencies to notify the public about convicted sex offenders living in their communities", as the Telegraph explains.
The death penalty now remains in 37 US states. Those who do not practice executions are Alaska, Hawaii, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, North Dakota, Rhode Island, Vermont, West Virginia and Wisconsin, plus the District of Columbia.
Since the US Supreme Court reintroduced the ultimate sanction in 1976, 1,099 people have gone to their deaths - 53 of them in 2006. The last execution was that of Michael Richard in Texas on 25 September, prior to a suspension of all executions pending a Supreme Court decision on "whether execution through lethal injection violates the constitutional ban on cruel and unusual punishment". ®