Today, Governor Bill Richardson of New Mexico signed a bill abolishing capital punishment in that state. “If the State is going to undertake this awesome responsibility,” the governor said, “the system to impose this ultimate penalty must be perfect and can never be wrong. But the reality is the system is not perfect – far from it. The system is inherently defective. DNA testing has proven that. Innocent people have been put on death row all across the country.”
Expressing serious concern about the fact that minorities are overrepresented in the prison population and on death row, Governor Richardson went on to explain that his decision to sign the repeal bill was based on fundamental American values:
“In a society which values individual life and liberty above all else, where justice and not vengeance is the singular guiding principle of our system of criminal law, the potential for wrongful conviction and, God forbid, execution of an innocent person stands as anathema to our very sensibilities as human beings. That is why I’m signing this bill into law.”
On Friday, March 13, 2009, the state Senate, in an almost exclusively party-line 24-18 vote, approved the bill abolishing the death penalty in New Mexico. The bill (House Bill 285) already had been approved in the House. The bill will replace the death penalty with a sentence of life imprisonment without possibility of parole.
Earlier today, the governor’s office announced that more than three-quarters of the people who contacted the governor about the bill are in favor of the measure. Some 7169 people called, e-mailed, or told Governor Richardson in person that they support the death penalty repeal, while 2244 expressed opposition.
An online poll by the Albuquerque Journal showed today that 66% of some 5300 respondents supported Richardson signing the bill.
There are two men on New Mexico’s death row; their sentences will not be affected by the repeal legislation. New Mexico has executed one man in the past 49 years.
New Jersey banned executions in 2007, the first state to do so since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976. Repeal legislation has been active so far this year in Maryland, Montana, and Kansas.
Contrary to trends in other states towards limiting or abolishing the death penalty, Alabama has the highest death sentencing rate in the country and has scheduled more executions for 2009 than it has since 1949. Only seven states in the country have carried out any executions this year; of those, Alabama and Texas are the only states to have executed more than one person.