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New Mexico repeals death penalty

Gov. Bill Richardson signs a bill ending capital punishment as of July 1. The state has executed only one prisoner since 1960.

March 19, 2009|Associated Press

SANTA FE, N.M. — Gov. Bill Richardson signed legislation Wednesday repealing New Mexico's death penalty, making it the second state to ban executions since the Supreme Court reinstated the penalty in 1976.

Richardson, a Democrat who formerly supported capital punishment, said that signing the bill was the "most difficult decision" of his political life but that "the potential for . . . execution of an innocent person stands as anathema to our very sensibilities as human beings."

Richardson said he made the decision after going to the state penitentiary, where he saw the death chamber and visited the maximum security unit where those sentenced to life without parole could be housed.

"My conclusion was those cells are something that may be worse than death," he said. "I believe this is a just punishment."

The repeal, which passed the state Senate by a 24-18 vote Friday and was approved by the House a month earlier, takes effect July 1 and will apply to crimes committed after that date. Once in effect, the most severe punishment will be a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole.

"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," Richardson said at the state Capitol.

With Richardson signing the measure, New Mexico joins 14 other states that do not impose capital punishment. New Jersey, in 2007, was the only other state to outlaw capital punishment since its reinstatement by the Supreme Court.

Since 1960, New Mexico has executed only one person, child killer Terry Clark, in 2001.

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