Sunday, March 15, 2009

Legislators in New Mexico vote to repeal death penalty

Support for the death penalty is a mile wide, but only a inch deep. Consider today's wire story from the Associated Press (Edited for brevity):

Saturday, March 14, 2009
SANTA FE, New Mexico:

The State Legislature voted Friday to repeal the death penalty, meaning New Mexico could become the 15th U.S. state without capital punishment if the governor signs the bill into law.
Gov. Bill Richardson has opposed a repeal in the past, but now says he would consider signing it. "I haven't made a final decision," the governor said this week.
If Richardson signs the bill, New Mexico — one of 36 states with capital punishment — will become the second state to ban executions since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976. New Jersey was the first, in 2007.
The state Senate voted 24-18 on Friday in favor of the bill, which replaces capital punishment with a sentence of life-without parole. The House approved it a month ago. However, a repeal would not affect the sentences of the state's two inmates on death row.
Countrywide, death sentences and executions have been on a steady decline for more than a decade. Legislation being debated in several states to abolish capital punishment is getting more attention than in the past. Repeal legislation has passed the state Senate in Montana and awaits a House hearing. The state Senate in Kansas is expected to debate a repeal bill on Monday.
President Barack Obama has said he is in favor of executions only in extreme cases, but has otherwise mostly avoided the issue and has no direct sway over states' death penalty laws. But he could appoint more liberal justices to federal courts who are less likely to impose death sentences.
In part, recent death row exonerations prompted by improved methods of testing physical evidence, including DNA samples, have planted seeds of doubt. And changes to state laws also have made a difference, as more states have been giving juries the option of imposing life without parole rather than death.
"As beautiful as our justice system is ... it is still a justice system of human beings, and human beings make mistakes," Sen. Cisco McSorley, an Albuquerque Democrat, said during nearly three hours of debate.
Financial necessity also is a driving factor. The death penalty is expensive — trials often require extra lawyers for appeals and higher security costs — and cash-strapped states are responding to the notion that it is cheaper to imprison people for life.
Observers caution that the death penalty is not likely to end soon in a country where polls still show 60 percent of people support executions. They point to the mostly conservative American South — which does not include New Mexico — as the major reason.
Of the 1,151 executions nationwide since the U.S. Supreme court reinstated the death penalty in 1976, the vast majority — 951 — occurred in the South, according to the nonprofit Death Penalty Information Center. New Mexico has executed one, convicted child killer Terry Clark in 2001.

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