Thursday, March 19, 2009

Richardson Signs Death Penalty Repeal, after Visiting Inmates, Officers, Victims & Church

The Santa Fe New Mexican reports that last night, with the support of the Catholic Church and considerable personal anxiety, Gov. Bill Richardson signed a bill that repealed the death penalty in New Mexico.

The article says Richardson reached his decision only after a very gut-wrenching process, during which he went to Mass, visited death row and the state's 'death house,' made eye contact with one death-row inmate and an inmate awaiting trial for murdering a deputy, and listened personally to corrections officials and the families of two murder victims.

Richardson said he was still wrestling with whether he's for or against the death penalty and with whether he made the right decision.

But in signing the bill he added: "Regardless of my personal opinion about the death penalty, I do not have confidence in the criminal justice system as it currently operates to be the final arbiter when it comes to who lives and who dies for their crime. If the state is going to undertake this awesome responsibility, the system to impose this ultimate penalty must be perfect and can never be wrong."

He said after visiting death row, "I came to the conclusion that those cells may be worse than death" and that life without parole is "a just punishment."

The Catholic Church has long favored abolition of the death penalty everywhere, in part for the reasons Richardson mentioned and also because it may deprive those executed of the opportunity to repent and victims' loved ones of time to foresake vengence and forgive. Beside Richardson when he signed the bill was Bishop Ricardo Ramirez of Las Cruces. The bishop noted that Archbishop Michael Sheehan of Santa Fe also favored the repeal but currently was out of the country.

1 comment:

Gerald T Floyd said...

The Albuquerque Journal has posted the complete text of the press release Richardson issued in conjunction with the signing. The following paragraphs provide additional rationale for his decision:

"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 bill I am signing today, which was courageously carried for so many years by Representative Gail Chasey, replaces the death penalty with true life without the possibility of parole - a sentence that ensures violent criminals are locked away from society forever, yet can be undone if an innocent person is wrongfully convicted. More than 130 death row inmates have been exonerated in the past 10 years in this country, including four New Mexicans - a fact I cannot ignore.

"From an international human rights perspective, there is no reason the United States should be behind the rest of the world on this issue. Many of the countries that continue to support and use the death penalty are also the most repressive nations in the world. That's not something to be proud of.

"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."

The full text is at: