By Steve Terrell: The Santa Fe New Mexican
Friday’s decisive state Senate vote to repeal the death penalty in New Mexico was a direct result of November’s election of several new lawmakers.
That’s the opinion expressed both by a leading supporter and by a leading opponent of House Bill 285, which would replace the death penalty with a sentence of life in prison without possibility of parole.
The bill, which cleared the House 40-28 last month, passed the Senate 24-18 after a nearly three-hour debate. It now goes to Gov. Bill Richardson, who in recent days has said his support for capital punishment has softened and he hasn’t decided whether he’ll sign the legislation.
“I have met with many people and will continue to consider all sides of the issue before making a decision,” said the Democratic governor, who called it “an extremely difficult issue.”
New Mexico, one of 36 states with a death penalty, would be the first to ban executions since New Jersey in 2007.
The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Gail Chasey, D-Albuquerque, said Friday she was able to get the bill through the Senate this year because the 2008 election added three more senators to the Democratic majority. In recent years the bill had been stopped in the Senate Judiciary Committee. Last week that committee voted in favor of HB285 by a one-vote margin.
“The election gave us a more comfortable margin,” Chasey said.
Lem Martinez, who is district attorney for the 13th Judicial District, has spoken against the repeal bill at committee hearings on behalf of the state District Attorneys Association. He said Friday that the Senate vote was the result of (Barack) Obama’s coattails. “Last November the voters spoke,” Martinez said.
Martinez said he intends to speak with Richardson to lobby for a veto of HB265.
Chasey said she also plans to talk to Richardson. “Our work’s not finished yet,” she said.
The governor’s office set up a phone line for gathering the opinions of New Mexicans on the issue. The number is 505-476-2225. Those wishing to weigh in via e-mail can do so by visiting the governor’s Web site at www.governor.state.nm.us and clicking on “Contact the Governor.”
Richardson must act on the bill within three days after he receives it. A spokesman said he hadn’t received the bill by the end of Friday but expects to get it today. That would make Wednesday the deadline for him to sign or veto the bill.
One person who intends to call that hotline is Colleen Gore, mother of 9-year-old Artesia girl, Dena Lynn Gore, who was murdered in 1986 by Terry Clark. Clark was lethally injected in 2001, the most recent execution by the state of New Mexico.
Colleen Gore said in a telephone interview Friday that she was disappointed by the Senate vote. “I think it’s kind of sad,” she said.
“I think instead of repealing the death penalty they should be working on ways to shorten the appeals process,”