Tuesday, March 10, 2009
Tuesday, March 10, 2009
Committee OKs Death Penalty Repeal
By Dan Boyd
Journal Capitol Bureau
SANTA FE — The latest effort to repeal New Mexico's death penalty edged past a key legislative gatekeeper on Monday and headed for a crucial Senate vote.
The Senate Judiciary Committee voted 6-5 in favor of replacing the death penalty with life in prison without parole, advancing the measure to the full Senate.
Passage by the 42-member Senate during the 12 days remaining in the legislative session would send the measure to Gov. Bill Richardson, whose past support for the death penalty may have softened. Approval of the legislation would make New Mexico the 15th state in the nation to abolish capital punishment.
"We are cautiously optimistic about the vote on the floor," said Michelle Giger, a member of the New Mexico branch of Murder Victims' Families for Reconciliation. "We have a way better chance than we did before."
All four Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee voted against the bill Monday and were joined by Sen. Richard Martinez, D-Española. The six other Democrats on the committee voted for the bill.
"I do believe that the death penalty is a deterrent," Martinez said. "In my heart, I think it is."
The measure to repeal the death penalty — House Bill 285 — passed the House of Representatives 40-28 on Feb. 11, and a full Senate vote could come later this week.
Although Richardson previously has opposed attempts to abolish the death penalty, he's staying open to the idea this time around, said Eric Witt, Richardson's legislative liaison.
"The governor continues to weigh all sides on this issue," Witt said Monday. "I don't expect him to make up his mind until, and if, it gets to his desk."
Among those arguing to repeal the New Mexico death penalty Monday was Sam Millsap, a former district attorney in San Antonio, Texas, who told committee members he harbors doubts about whether a man executed under his watch in 1993 was actually guilty.
"I oppose the death penalty because my experience shows me the greatest criminal justice system in the world is simply not competent to decide who may live and who may die," said Millsap, a former death penalty supporter.
Opponents of repeal who testified Monday said they believe having the death penalty serves as a deterrent and raised questions about the argument that doing away with it would save the state money.
"We will continue to pay defense attorneys who are trying to get people off life without parole," said Lemuel Martinez, who represents Valencia, Sandoval and Cibola counties as New Mexico's 13th Judicial District Attorney.
Twenty-six people have been executed in New Mexico since 1912. However, the state hasn't executed an inmate since 2001, when Terry Clark received a lethal injection for abducting and murdering 9-year-old Dena Lynn Gore in Artesia.
Two individuals are now on death row — Robert Fry of Farmington and Timothy Allen of Bloomfield.
There have been repeated efforts in New Mexico to repeal the death penalty, but supporters say 2009 may represent their best chance yet. Democrats increased their numbers in the 2008 elections and now outnumber Republicans 72-40 in the Legislature. Meanwhile, cost-savings arguments, stemming mostly from the expense of lengthy death penalty appeals and legal work, might be carrying greater weight given the troubled state of economy.
"We're very optimistic," said Allen Sanchez, executive director of the New Mexico Conference of Catholic Bishops, which supports a repeal of the death penalty.
The bill's sponsor, Rep. Gail Chasey, D-Albuquerque, has introduced legislation that would provide $1.5 million annually in compensation for murder victims' families, and said doing away with the death penalty doesn't equate to greater leniency.
"We are not excusing terribly violent murders, by any means," Chasey said. "We believe society should be protected."
Opponents of the bill, including Senate Minority Whip William Payne, R-Albuquerque, aren't convinced.
"The problem I've always had with this bill is the police officers and the corrections officers," Payne said. "We may lock (those convicted) away for life, but we don't lock them away from people for life."
U.S. drug maker Eli Lilly is close to settling criminal and civil charges that it promoted a drug, Zyprexa, for unauthorized uses.
The company is expected to settle the claims for $1.4 billion, according to reports on Wednesday.
The company was charged with promoting the drug, an anti-psychotic, for use among children and the elderly, although it was not approved for use with those categories of patients.
For the elderly, the company promoted the drug to nursing homes to calm patients and make "nursing time and effort" easier, court documents claimed.
Court filings say Zyprexa was also promoted for use among hard-to-control children.
Among the elderly, the drug could be life threatening, increasing the risk of heart failure, sources reported. Among children, the drug's side effects of causing severe weight gain and metabolic disorders is elevated.
A company spokeswoman, Angela Sekson, declined to comment on the pending settlement. Patricia Hartman, a spokeswoman for the U.S. attorney's office for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, the office prosecuting the case, also declined comment.
Police in Germantown, Wisconsin plan to review surveillance video in an attempt to find out who is responsible for releasing a chemical believed to have made nearly 50 people sick at a local Wal-Mart.
Twenty-five people were taken by ambulance to area hospitals Thursday. Twenty-two others went on their own to the hospital to be treated for respiratory problems and other health effects.
The Wal-Mart was evacuated after customers began feeling ill. Germantown Police Chief Peter Hoell says a substance believed to be responsible was found on the floor of the store. Hoell would not identify the substance.
Federal agents are assisting in the investigation.
Police in San Jose, California, say a man who died after being stunned got into a "violent struggle" with officers trying to take him into custody.
The man, described as being in his 20s, was the sixth person to die in the city after a Taser or electronic stun gun was used on them, according to police reports.
The officers were responding to a call about an intruder in a backyard, police said. Enrique Garcia, a police spokesman, said the man "resisted and got into a violent struggle with our officers."
Police hit the man with batons and then one officer used his Taser. After the man collapsed, officers tried CPR to no avail.
Garcia said some of the officers were injured in the struggle. The homicide squad is investigating the death.
San Jose issued Tasers to all police officers in 2004 after a woman was shot and killed when an officer mistook her vegetable peeler for a large knife.
Ex-Met second baseman Roberto Alomar found his sex life made public after his former girlfriend sued him, saying he had unprotected sex with her while he was exposed to HIV and AIDS.
Ilya Dall, 31, said in her lawsuit that she lived for over three years with Alomar while he knew or should have known he was HIV-positive or suffering from AIDS. Dall, who has two children, said in court papers she had unprotected sex with Alomar repeatedly after they met in 2002 through 2005.
Dall initially filed her lawsuit last month in State Supreme Court in Queens. On Tuesday, her attorneys filed papers to move the case to federal court in Brooklyn. She is asking for $15 million in damages for what she said were the emotional and mental affects of AIDS phobia.
According to her court papers, Dall said that over the years she noticed Alomar suffer from various ailments, including oral cold sores, low platelet counts, vision problems and fatigue.
While she was with Alomar, Dall said in her court papers that he maintained that he was HIV-negative. However, in February 2006, Alomar learned he was suffering from AIDS, Dall's court papers alleged.
Dall, who lives in Whitestone, said that after learning about the AIDS diagnosis she "experienced terror and severe emotional distress" because there is no known cure for AIDS, her court papers stated.
Alomar's attorney declined to comment about the lawsuit or the health of his client.
Alomar, 41, considered one of the top second basemen in baseball history, came to the Mets in 2002 and played into 2003, when he was traded to the Chicago White Sox. He retired before the 2005 season.
The head of the company linked to a massive salmonella outbreak in peanut products refused to testify at a congressional hearing Wednesday as lawmakers accused him of caring more about profits than food safety.
Peanut Corp. of America President Stewart Parnell invoked his constitutional right not to testify, as did his Blakely, Ga., plant manager, during the hearing before a House subcommittee. Both also refused to eat recalled products that a lawmaker offered them from a jar.
The Food and Drug Administration has said that PCA distributed products in 2007 and 2008 that had tested positive for salmonella. The products should not have been shipped, the FDA said.
The outbreak has sickened more than 600 people and may have contributed to nine deaths. More than 1,900 products have been recalled, making it one of the biggest recalls ever. A criminal probe is underway.
"We are shocked at what's been going on in this company," said Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., at the hearing.
The hearing revealed company e-mails indicating frustration over costs and repeated testing.
In September, according to one e-mail, Parnell was told by the Blakely plant manager that a product had been shipped that tested positive for salmonella. The product would be retested, Parnell was told. The plant manager also told Parnell that customers receiving the product should put it on hold, meaning not use or sell it. A week later, an e-mail from Parnell said, "We need to discuss this ... the time lapse ... is costing us huge $$$$$."
Just days after PCA's recall began last month, Parnell pleaded with FDA officials to let the company "at least ... turn the Raw Peanuts on our floor into money," according to a document released at the hearing.
The hearing also revealed that as far back as 2006, the plant had a salmonella finding, potentially linked to Chinese-supplied organic peanuts, according to a November 2006 letter to the company.
JLA USA, which PCA had hired to investigate the incident, told PCA in the letter that its roasting step -- a kill step for salmonella -- hadn't been adequately checked for efficiency and noted that improvements were underway. After an inspection last month, the FDA said the plant failed to show that its roasting was an effective kill step.
JLA President Darlene Cowart also told lawmakers that it appeared that PCA largely dropped JLA as a lab because the lab found higher bacterial counts than others did.