During its first public hearing on capital punishment, the New Jersey Death Penalty Study Commission heard testimony from witnesses representing a broad spectrum of opinions. Almost all those testifying spoke against retaining the death penalty. Among those who testified before the 13-member panel were legal experts, religious leaders, murder victims' family members, and exonerees such as Larry Peterson, who spent 18 years in a New Jersey prison for a rape and murder he did not commit.
During the hearing, Peterson noted that he was grateful that jurors in his case chose not to hand down the death sentence sought by prosecutors because "if you take a life, you can't turn around and correct the wrong that has been done." It took Peterson's attorneys a decade to secure testing of biological samples using DNA technology. Those tests led to the reversal of his conviction and his release in May 2006. Barry Scheck, co-director of the Innocence Project in New York City, also testified about the issue of wrongful convictions during the hearing, noting, "It's ridiculous . . .to assume that mistakes will not be made. We have demonstrated that there is a lot of error in the system."