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TRENTON, NJ (CAP) - For 34-year-old Level 3 sex offender Donald Lester, the decision to pick up from his lifelong Tennessee home and move to New Jersey was an easy one. The difficult part came in deciding exactly where in the Garden State to lay his new roots.
"It was a tough decision, but I found this cute little ranch about a quarter mile from an elementary school," Lester told CAP News during a phone interview. "Needless to say, I can't tell you what town, but it'll be great. I'm really excited."
Lester joins hundreds of others just like him who have begun to make the pilgrimage to various locations in New Jersey now that Gov. Jon Corzine has signed legislation that ends capital punishment in that state. Much like those who came to America seeking religious freedom, they come to New Jersey seeking an end to what they deem is unfair persecution.
"Death penalty, boy, that's a little harsh, don'tcha think?" asked 42-year-old ex-con Ross McMahon, who thrice beat people to within an inch of their lives in his home state of Ohio. "I've been looking to step up my game, but with the threat of death row over my head, I just couldn't pull the trigger.
"But Jersey, yeah, Jersey's where it's at now," added McMahon.
Social psychologists say that "threat of death row" not only keeps some criminals from going too far, but also lessens the enjoyment of the crime for those who do. Noted criminal psychologist Dr. Valiant Christopher said it's not unlike the difference between an angry spouse who speaks her mind and one who keeps everything bottled up.
"When you're on death row, that's all you can think about, and what fun is that?" said Christopher. "But when that fear isn't there, you can relax and relive your heinous act over and over to your heart's content.
"And really, isn't that what it's all about?" Christopher asked.
The abolishment of capital punishment is expected to be a boon for the state's tourism industry, which has struggled of late to find tangible reasons for law-abiding citizens to choose New Jersey as a travel destination. Tourism officials say the whole thing "really just markets itself."
"Discover a whole new world in New Jersey takes on a whole new ring, doesn't it?" asked New Jersey 2007 Travel Guide editor Chip Daniels. "You know, murderers and rapists put money into the economy just like everyone else, and frankly, that's what matters."
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