By DEBORAH BAKER / Associated Press
Article Launched: 02/13/2007 06:48:36 AM MST
SANTA FE - New Mexico would abolish the death penalty and replace it with a life-withoparole sentence under a bill passed by the House.
Supporters of the repeal, which passed Monday on 41-28 vote, have an uphill struggle. The measure goes next to the Senate, where similar legislation died two years ago.
And Gov. Bill Richardson - who would get the bill if it were to pass the Senate - never has been in favor of doing away with capital punishment.
"We have our work cut out for us," said Rep. Gail Chasey, D-Albuquerque, who has sponsored repeal legislation unsuccessfully several times.
New Mexico is one of 38 states with a death penalty. The method is lethal injection, which Chasey noted is under challenge in some states.
Supporters of abolishing the death penalty say it is not a deterrent to murder, is unjustly administered - "There are no rich people on death row," Chasey argued - and may result in the execution of innocent people.
Advocates for repeal also contend the $3 million a year they estimate New Mexico spends on
its capital punishment system could better be spent helping victims' families.
But opponents countered that only one person has been put to death in New Mexico in the last 47 years. Terry Clark's crime was heinous - he kidnapped and murdered 9-year-old Dena Lynn Gore of Artesia in 1986 - and he wanted to die, said Rep. Dan Foley, R-Roswell.
"The system in New Mexico works. ... We have been very cautious and very careful," Foley said.
There are two men on death row in the state, convicted murderers Timothy Allen of Bloomfield and Robert Fry of Farmington. Their sentences would not be affected by the proposed repeal.
According to statistics compiled by repeal advocates, there have been 207 death penalty prosecutions in New Mexico since 1979. Of those, 28 death sentences were imposed. Nineteen of those sentences were overturned; five were commuted by then-Gov. Toney Anaya; one prisoner died on death row; two are on death row; and Clark was executed.
In 2005, repeal legislation passed the House and went to the Senate, where it died by a single vote in the Senate Judiciary Committee. It marked the first time a bill to abolish capital punishment had passed either house of the Legislature.
Richardson, a candidate for the Democratic nomination for president in 2008, has refused to answer questions this year about his position on death penalty legislation. He said he is focused on the items on his legislative agenda.
Chasey said the governor continued to have "very cordial conversations" with death penalty opponents.
"I think he's giving it some thought," she said.