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Clock Ticking On Death Penalty in NM - Decision in Gov's Hands

March 17, 2009

Santa Fe - Time is running out on a bill that would abolish the death penalty in New Mexico. The measure passed the legislature last week and Governor Bill Richardson is expected to announce today his decision whether or not to sign it into law.

If he does, it would make the state only the second in the last forty years to do away with the death penalty. Christopher Hill with the ACLU Capital Punishment Project says it's the right move, pointing out that 130 death row convicts have been exonerated nationwide, including four in New Mexico. And, he says, studies have shown it's actually more expensive to carry out a death sentence than it is a sentence of life in prison.

"The appeals go on longer, there's more involved in providing a defense, and the prosecutors' offices use more resources in order to pursue death penalty cases."

He says appeals can go on for nearly a decade, and when people on death row are exonerated, it can cost the state even more in civil suits.

He says New Jersey has seen no negative consequences since it was the last state to abolish the death penalty in late 2007, and he hopes that Governor Richardson takes the opportunity to join the growing number of developed countries that have done away with executions.

"Italy just abolished the death penalty under all circumstances, so it would mean that the United States, New Mexico, would be catching up with the rest of the world, and New Mexico can be a leader."

Viki Elkey with the New Mexico Coalition to Repeal the Death Penalty says her group has forwarded the Governor a copy of a recent poll that found a strong majority of New Mexican voters favor getting rid of capital punishment.

"It shows 64 percent support repealing the death penalty, replacing it with life without parole, and providing restitution to our victims' families."

Proponents of the death penalty say it's an important deterrent to crime, and a key tool in protecting the state's police officers. Christopher Hill of the ACLU however says there's no evidence that has conclusively proved capital punishment to be an effective deterrent.

Eric Mack, Public News Service - NM