The Abolitionist of the Year Award

16 March 2017 :


To Bill Richardson, Governor of New Mexico & Gail Chasey, Member of the State House of Representatives of New Mexico

On March 18, 2009, New Mexico abolished the death penalty, becoming only the second U.S. State to do so in more than forty years, following New Jersey’s abolishment in December of 2007.

Governor Bill Richardson co-signed the bill into law, refusing the veto that was requested of him by many. In explaining how his opinion of the death penalty has changed and why he is no longer in favor of the practice, Governor Richardson stated that he could no longer put his faith in the criminal justice system “as it currently operates to be the final arbiter when it comes to who lives and who dies for their crime.” If the State is to assume this terrible responsibility, the system “must be perfect and can never be wrong. But the system is not perfect.” Richardson also stated that “from an international human rights perspective, there is no reason the United States should fall behind the rest of the world on this issue. Many of the countries that continue to use the death penalty are also the most repressive nations in the world. That’s not something to be proud of.”

The Senate approved the abolitionist bill on March 13, 2009, while the House of Representatives did so on February 11. Representative Gail Chasey had the courage and perseverance to champion the bill in New Mexico year after year until it passed into law. Representative Chasey first proposed the bill in 1999 and at every successive legislature. In 2005 and 2007, she was able to get the bill through the House, but it was blocked both times by the State Senate Justice Commission. This year, the bill finally received favor in the Senate as in the House of Representatives, rewarding the more than ten-year effort of Chasey and her fellow travelers on the long voyage.