Thursday, February 12, 2009
New Mexico Legislature Kills Death Penalty in State
The legislation, HB285, passed on a vote of 40-28, and headed to the Senate.
Twice before, in 2005 and 2007, the House approved a death penalty repeal only to have it fail in the Senate.
This year, repeal supporters are banking on a different outcome because there are new members in that chamber.
"If everyone who told us they would vote with us stays, we will pass the Senate," predicted Viki Elkey, executive director of the New Mexico Coalition to Repeal the Death Penalty.
A final hurdle would be Democratic Gov. Bill Richardson, who has been a supporter of capital punishment in the past.
Asked about it this week, he said only, "I'll take a look at it."
There are two men on death row, Robert Fry of Farmington and Timothy Allen of Bloomfield, whose executions would not be prevented by the passage of the bill.
New Mexico has executed one prisoner since 1960, child killer Terry Clark in 2001. The state uses lethal injection.
Rep. Gail Chasey, D-Albuquerque, who has sponsored similar legislation for the past decade, called repeal a "thoughtful and practical step."
"We no longer need the death penalty. Its costs far outweigh its benefits," she said.
Chasey contended capital punishment is expensive, doesn't deter violent crime and is imposed in a discriminatory manner.
And the state has come close to executing innocent people, she said. She cited a case from the 1970s in which four California bikers were on death row for the murder of a University of New Mexico student until the real killer came forward.
Supporters of repeal say the resources the state puts into capital punishment could better be spent helping murder victims' families.
State law limits the death penalty to certain murder cases, including those involving kidnapping, rape, the murder of police officers, prison guards or inmates, and murder for hire and murder of a witness.
Opponents of the bill said such victims' families deserve to keep the option of urging prosecutors to seek the death penalty.
"I don't want to take that away from the victims' families," said Rep. William Rehm, R-Albuquerque.
And opponents argued that murderers in prison for life — with nothing else left to lose — would be a danger to prison guards and to other inmates, and could escape and kill again.
Rendering such killers harmless is "a false hope," said Rep. Dennis Kintigh, a Roswell Republican.
Copyright ©2009 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
You also can send comments via our comment form