The Governor of New Mexico signed into law a bill, abolishing the death penalty in his state, on Wednesday evening. Governor Bill Richardson's signature made New Mexico the 15th abolitionist state in the USA.
In a statement, Governor Richardson explained that he had come to the conclusion that the death penalty’s irrevocable nature rendered it an untenable punishment in an imperfect justice system.
In his statement, Governor Richardson said:
"The reality is the system is not perfect – far from it. The system is inherently defective... 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."
Since 1975, more than 120 people have been released from death rows in the USA on grounds of innocence. They include four men sentenced to death in New Mexico in 1974 and exonerated two years later. Many others among the 120 had spent more than a decade on death row.
New Mexico’s abolitionist bill, replacing the death penalty with life imprisonment without the possibility of parole, was passed by the state Senate on 13 March 2009 by a vote of 24-18. The lower House of Representatives had earlier passed the legislation by 40 votes to 28.
There are two men on New Mexico’s death row. The state has only carried out one execution since judicial killing resumed in the USA in 1977. Terry Clark was put to death by lethal injection on 6 November 2001, in the state’s first and only execution since 1960. He had given up his appeals.
The 14 other abolitionist states in the USA are: Alaska, Hawaii, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, North Dakota, Rhode Island, Vermont, West Virginia, and Wisconsin. The District of Columbia is also abolitionist. The remaining 35 states have the death penalty, as does the federal government and the US military.
Amnesty International is calling on the US federal government and authorities in the 35 states in the USA which still have the death penalty to work against this punishment with a view to abolition. Pending abolition, the relevant authorities are urged to prevent any further executions, in line with the UN General Assembly’s call for such a worldwide moratorium on executions.
Governor Richardson recognized the USA’s increasingly isolated position: “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.”
Amnesty International releases its annual figures on the use of the death penalty around the world on Tuesday.