Last night, New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson signed HR 285, effectively abolishing the death penalty in that state, and making the most severe punishment available to prosecutors life without the possibility of parole. Richardson called signing the bill "the most difficult decision of my political life." We are glad he made the right choice.
“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,” the Governor said. From the New York Times:
New Mexico has executed only one person since 1960, Terry Clark, a child killer, in 2001.However, Sentencing Law and Policy asks whether the state can (or should) still go ahead with the executions of the two condemned currently in prison in that state. (Capital Defense adds that one additional capital case will go forward as planned.) Looking toward the future, SentLaw observes,
Two men are currently on death row, Robert Fry of Farmington and Timothy Allen of Bloomfield. Their sentences are not affected by the new law.
For a host of reasons, I think it is unlikely that New Mexico will ultimately execute the two men on its death row given that it has now abolished the death penalty. But perhaps it will try, and appellate courts will have to decide whether the state can go forward with executions after having taken this sentence off its books.Read Governor Richardson's full statement here.
Another interesting legal issue could arise if New Mexico prosecutors want to still pursue death in response to a terrible murder committed over the next three months. As noted above, the law repealing the death penalty has an effective date of July 1, 2009. This would suggest that prosecutors still could (and arguably still should) seriously consider bringing capital charges against any and all terrible murderers who commits their crimes before the second half of this year.