Friday, 20 March 2009

Campaign to End the Death Penalty Celebrates Abolition in New Mexico

Campaign to End the Death Penalty Celebrates Abolition in New Mexico

Governor Bill Richardson did the right thing when he signed House Bill 285, which outlawed the death penalty. New Mexico now becomes the 15th state without the death penalty, and the second state to abolish it legislatively, after New Jersey in 2007. Activists who worked for repeal are celebrating their hard-fought victory, which took thousands of people making phone calls, writing letters and attending rallies. As Christy Armell from the Albuquerque chapter of the Campaign to End the Death Penalty says, “it’s a great time for all New Mexicans, but also for this country, as we are setting an example that there is no need for the death penalty and it is not good public policy. New Mexico has spoken loud and clear and we have chosen to become part of the 14 other states that understand respect for life means every life. I am proud to be a New Mexican today.”

Passage of the legislation represents a growing recognition that the death penalty is too flawed to fix and has no place in a just society. As Governor Richardson said, “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.”

Richardson also recognized that race is a persistent factor in who gets the death penalty, and that all too often it condemns the innocent to die. He spoke for a growing number of people, both in New Mexico and around the country when he said, “I don’t 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.”

The death penalty in New Mexico and around the country did get it wrong. Four men, Thomas Gladich, Richard Greer, Ronald Keine and Clarence Smith, were sentenced to die for crimes they did not commit and later exonerated, while only one person has been executed there since reinstatement of the death penalty in 1977. Nationally, 130 people have been exonerated from death rows. Passage of this legislation is a victory for future New Mexicans who will no longer risk death for crimes they did not commit. We urge other states around the country, some of which also are considering abolition legislation, to follow in the footsteps of New Mexico and get rid of their own death penalty systems.

Our fight in New Mexico, however, is not over. House Bill 285 was not retroactive, and the two men on death row, Robert Fry and Timothy Allen, still face execution. We are disappointed that Governor Richardson has stated that he will not commute their sentences, and we call on him to reconsider, as any use of the death penalty, as he himself implied, violates the standards of a society that values human rights.

It is also the case that HB 285 introduced a Life Without Parole (LWOP) sentence in a state where it did not previously exist. Just as it does with the death penalty, the United States lags behind much of the world in its use of LWOP, another brutal, inhumane sentence that former California death row prisoner Stanley Tookie Williams, who was executed in 2005 despite his remarkable personal transformation, called “slow death in a cage”. The struggle for justice continues, in New Mexico and around the country.

Call (773)955-4841 for more information about the Campaign to End the Death Penalty
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