New Mexico Abolishes Death Penalty!

Tonight, a little after 6 PM mountain time, New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson signed into law a bill abolishing the death penalty in his state. After weeks of publicly wrestling with the issue (he had in previous years been a supporter of capital punishment), and after several days of widely soliciting public comment – a hotline the Governor’s office set up resulted in calls coming in 3-1 in favor of abolition – the Governor agreed to strike capital punishment from the books (though the law is not retroactive, and the fate of the two men who currently occupy New Mexico’s death row is unclear).

New Mexico becomes the 15th state in the U.S. to outlaw capital punishment. Curiously, it is also the third “New” state in a row to be moved into the abolitionist column. New York’s death penalty was declared unconstitutional and its death row closed in 2007, and New Jersey abolished its death penalty legislatively, also in 2007.   The only remaining “New” state – New Hampshire – will be having a House floor debate on death penalty abolition on Tuesday, March 24, though in that state, the Governor is not wrestling with the issue at all (at least not publicly), and is unlikely to support any repeal bill.

New Mexico becomes the first Southwestern state to end its experiment with the death penalty.  Until now, abolition has been confined to the Northeast and Upper Midwest (plus Alaska and Hawaii).   Like its fellow “New” states, New Mexico rarely used its death penalty (only 1 execution since 1960 – the other “New” states never did carry out an execution after reinstating their death penalties after 1976). Other states that fit into this pattern include New Hampshire (no executions since 1939), and Kansas (no executions since reinstatement). In both these states, vital abolition efforts are ongoing.  Other states where abolition debates are heating up (Colorado, Montana, Nebraska )have carried out 1, 3 and 3 executions respectively, and Maryland has only carried out 5.

In fact, more than half the states in the country have either abolished the death penalty, or have carried out fewer than 10 executions in the last 30 years. Only 9 states carried out executions last year.

And support for capital punishment continues to dwindle.  This is reflected in the decreasing number of death sentences handed down by juries (111 last year, down from a high of 328 in 1994), and the reduced support for the death penalty in public opinion polls (a May 2006 Gallup poll revealed that Americans are evenly split between preferring the death penalty (47%) or life without parole (48%)).

Exonerations off of death row (there have been 130 since 1973), and other wrongful convictions revealed by DNA testing (there have been over 230 of those), have worn down enthusiasm for executions as the public has become increasingly aware of how mistake-prone our criminal justice and capital punishment systems can be.

Once a third-rail issue in most states, reforming or even repealing the death penalty is now mainstream politics.  Skepticism about capital punishment is making inroads everywhere, even in the South, where the vast majority of executions take place.  Texas juries are doing what juries are doing nationwide, handing down fewer and fewer death sentences (there were 11 in 2008, as compared to 48 back in 1999). And North Carolina, which has carried out 43 executions since reinstatement, had only one death sentence last year.

The U.S. death penalty will not be relegated to the history books any time soon, but as doubts about its usefulness — and doubts about its cost – persist and grow, more states may decide that it’s just not worth it to maintain capital punishment.

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21 thoughts on “New Mexico Abolishes Death Penalty!

  1. Well, that's three down and 35 more to go. We're getting there! :) Anyway, now the healing can really begin for the victims' families in New Mexico. My heart goes out to them, especially Dena's family, and to the family of the one guy (Terry D. Clark) who had been killed by New Mexico (even though he wished to die by execution, it's still very sad, and I pray that his soul can now rest in peace with his victim Dena). May God give them all the peace and healing they truly deserve.

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  3. Well, that’s three down and 35 more to go. We’re getting there! :) Anyway, now the healing can really begin for the victims’ families in New Mexico. My heart goes out to them, especially Dena’s family, and to the family of the one guy (Terry D. Clark) who had been killed by New Mexico (even though he wished to die by execution, it’s still very sad, and I pray that his soul can now rest in peace with his victim Dena). May God give them all the peace and healing they truly deserve.

  4. Good job, New Mexico, and thank you, Bill Richardson, for actually LISTENING to your constituents despite your own beliefs about capital punishment!

    We're still waiting here in Florida…

  5. Good job, New Mexico, and thank you, Bill Richardson, for actually LISTENING to your constituents despite your own beliefs about capital punishment!

    We’re still waiting here in Florida…

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  7. I'm writing from Australia.. great news regarding the abolition in NM. Please read the case of my friend, Darrell Lomax, on death row in San Quentin. You could drive a truck through the holes in his case, an appalling representation of jurisprudence. Come on Gov Schwarzenneger, follow suit… To read Darrell's case, google his name. He appreciates correspondence! FIGHT! SMASH! WIN!

  8. I’m writing from Australia.. great news regarding the abolition in NM. Please read the case of my friend, Darrell Lomax, on death row in San Quentin. You could drive a truck through the holes in his case, an appalling representation of jurisprudence. Come on Gov Schwarzenneger, follow suit… To read Darrell’s case, google his name. He appreciates correspondence! FIGHT! SMASH! WIN!

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  10. Pingback: Bad News, Good News | Human Rights Now - Amnesty International USA Blog

  11. Hello,
    This e-mail message is in reply to something which happened last year. Your organization presented a petition to be filed in the State of Georgia, in defense of a death row inmate, named Troy Davis. Before signing your petition your organization stated in their letter, there wasn't any real proof or tangible evidence of this inmates guilt for the murder of a police officer in that State.
    After the petition was presented twice on his behalf by your organization, there was a stay in his execution. Which is what you were trying to obtain, and succeeded.
    However, there is one thing which bothers me immensely about this petition you presented online to millions of people nation wide. After the the stay of execution was granted to the man, you sent another letter afterward stating there were eight or nine eye-witnesses who saw this man gun down this police officer. Now I am still against the Death Penalty anyway. But, I have to tell you that I will probably not comply with future petitons due to this. If there were eyewitnesses you should say so before presenting your petiton, and not wait until afterward. This was only a half truth, and you were afraid it would hurt the number of persons who would sign your petition on this case. I am sure that there are other people out there who feel the same way about this as I do. For if the man was guilty, then there is just punishment. This leaves a whole lot of room for doubt in the future for those who would sign any future petitions including me. It sort of the same as let the buyer beware. People will be wary of signing any future petitions because of this untold or omitted fact about this case. Your organization should have some sort of referral website to read all the findings about some of these cases. If the man is guilty he should spend the rest of his days behind bars. And I am still against the Death Penalty anyway. Please have someone respond to this letter whenever you have the spare time available. Thank you……Lani

  12. Hello,
    This e-mail message is in reply to something which happened last year. Your organization presented a petition to be filed in the State of Georgia, in defense of a death row inmate, named Troy Davis. Before signing your petition your organization stated in their letter, there wasn’t any real proof or tangible evidence of this inmates guilt for the murder of a police officer in that State.
    After the petition was presented twice on his behalf by your organization, there was a stay in his execution. Which is what you were trying to obtain, and succeeded.
    However, there is one thing which bothers me immensely about this petition you presented online to millions of people nation wide. After the the stay of execution was granted to the man, you sent another letter afterward stating there were eight or nine eye-witnesses who saw this man gun down this police officer. Now I am still against the Death Penalty anyway. But, I have to tell you that I will probably not comply with future petitons due to this. If there were eyewitnesses you should say so before presenting your petiton, and not wait until afterward. This was only a half truth, and you were afraid it would hurt the number of persons who would sign your petition on this case. I am sure that there are other people out there who feel the same way about this as I do. For if the man was guilty, then there is just punishment. This leaves a whole lot of room for doubt in the future for those who would sign any future petitions including me. It sort of the same as let the buyer beware. People will be wary of signing any future petitions because of this untold or omitted fact about this case. Your organization should have some sort of referral website to read all the findings about some of these cases. If the man is guilty he should spend the rest of his days behind bars. And I am still against the Death Penalty anyway. Please have someone respond to this letter whenever you have the spare time available. Thank you……Lani

  13. Lani,

    The central feature of the Troy Davis case, as was made clear in our February 2007 report, is that 9 witnesses testified against him at trial, but 7 of those witnesses have now recanted or changed their testimony, many stating in sworn affidavits that police coerced them into giving false testimony. These witnesses were virtually the only evidence in the case, which is why the fact that almost all of them have recanted is so significant, and why his claim to innocence is so strong.

    You can read our 2007 report on the Troy Davis case at: http://www.amnestyusa.org/document.php?lang=e&id=

    And there is much more information on our website at: http://www.amnestyusa.org/troy

  14. Lani,

    The central feature of the Troy Davis case, as was made clear in our February 2007 report, is that 9 witnesses testified against him at trial, but 7 of those witnesses have now recanted or changed their testimony, many stating in sworn affidavits that police coerced them into giving false testimony. These witnesses were virtually the only evidence in the case, which is why the fact that almost all of them have recanted is so significant, and why his claim to innocence is so strong.

    You can read our 2007 report on the Troy Davis case at: http://www.amnestyusa.org/document.php?lang=e&id=

    And there is much more information on our website at: http://www.amnestyusa.org/troy

  15. Lani,

    The central feature of the Troy Davis case, as was made clear in our February 2007 report, is that 9 witnesses testified against him at trial, but 7 of those witnesses have now recanted or changed their testimony, many stating in sworn affidavits that police coerced them into giving false testimony. These witnesses were virtually the only evidence in the case, which is why the fact that almost all of them have recanted is so significant, and why his claim to innocence is so strong.

    You can read our 2007 report on the Troy Davis case at: http://www.amnestyusa.org/document.php?lang=e&id=

    And there is much more information on our website at: http://www.amnestyusa.org/troy

  16. Lani,

    The central feature of the Troy Davis case, as was made clear in our February 2007 report, is that 9 witnesses testified against him at trial, but 7 of those witnesses have now recanted or changed their testimony, many stating in sworn affidavits that police coerced them into giving false testimony. These witnesses were virtually the only evidence in the case, which is why the fact that almost all of them have recanted is so significant, and why his claim to innocence is so strong.

    You can read our 2007 report on the Troy Davis case at:
    http://www.amnestyusa.org/document.php?lang=e&id=ENGAMR510232007

    And there is much more information on our website at:
    http://www.amnestyusa.org/troy

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  18. What is really being missed from state to state inmate searches? Is it just a problem if the inmate is in the middle of being charged with a new crime or moving to another location?

  19. What is really being missed from state to state inmate searches? Is it just a problem if the inmate is in the middle of being charged with a new crime or moving to another location?