NEW MEXICO (USA): GOVENOR SIGNS LAW ABOLISHING DEATH PENALTY
|New Mexico governor Bill Richardson
March 18, 2009: Gov. Bill Richardson signed legislation today repealing New Mexico's death penalty. Richardson, a Democrat who formerly supported capital punishment, said signing the bill was the "most difficult decision" of his political life but that "the potential for ... execution of an innocent person stands as anathema to our very sensibilities as human beings."
Richardson said he made the decision after going to the state penitentiary, where he saw the death chamber and visited the maximum security unit where those sentenced to life without parole could be housed. "My conclusion was those cells are something that may be worse than death," he said. "I believe this is a just punishment."
"Faced with the reality that our system for imposing the death penalty can never be perfect, my conscience compels me to replace the death penalty with a solution that keeps society safe," Richardson told a news conference in the state Capitol.
"If you're going to put somebody to death, the ... criminal justice system has to be perfect, and it isn't," he said. The Senate passed the bill 24-18 on March 13, while the House had approved it 40-28 on Feb. 11. The repeal takes effect July 1 and will apply to crimes committed after that date.
The sentences of two men currently on death row will not be affected by the new law. Once in effect, the most severe punishment will be a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole. Since 1960, New Mexico has executed only one person, Terry Clark, in 2001.
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, former President Jimmy Carter and Lt. Gov. Diane Denish were among those who called on Richardson to sign the bill.
The governor also said his solicitation for input from residents received 12,000 responses by phone, e-mail and visits and that more than three-fourths were in favor of repeal.
The New Mexico Sheriffs' and Police Association had opposed repealing the death penalty, saying capital punishment deters violence against police officers, jailers and prison guards.
District attorneys also opposed the legislation, arguing that the death penalty was a useful prosecutorial tool.
A former congressman and member of President Bill Clinton's cabinet, Richardson said he was disturbed that death rows contain so many minorities. And, from a foreign policy perspective, the death penalty "did not seem to me to be good moral leadership and good foreign policy."
Richardson said he didn't have confidence in the criminal justice system as the final arbiter of life and death.
New Mexico joins 14 other states that have abolished capital punishment.
It is only the second to do so since the US Supreme Court reinstated the states' power to impose the death penalty in 1976. (Sources: Reuters, Associated Press, 18/03/2009)