No More Death Penalty in New Mexico

Busy as he is tracking intramural squabbles in the Church, I'm very glad Rocco Palmo also called my attention to some good news from the Southwest. Governor Bill Richardson has ended the practice of capital punishment in New Mexico. Better still, the statement he issued to explain his decision is clear and candid -- to my mind, at least, an informative contrast with much of what we've heard from politicians on other "life issues" lately. He doesn't stop at "responsible people disagree" and wave away the disagreement. He articulates the responsibility the state takes on when it allows itself the power to execute, and explains how he came to believe that the state does not and cannot meet that responsibility adequately. For Richardson, signing the bill is the end of a "long, personal journey":

But what we cannot disagree on is the finality of this ultimate punishment. Once a conclusive decision has been made and executed, it cannot be reversed. And it is in consideration of this, that I have made my decision.I have decided to sign legislation that repeals the death penalty in the state of New Mexico....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.But the reality is the system is not perfect far from it. The system is inherently defective. DNA testing has proven that. Innocent people have been put on death row all across the country.Even with advances in DNA and other forensic evidence technologies, we cant be 100-percent sure that only the truly guilty are convicted of capital crimes. Evidence, including DNA evidence, can be manipulated. Prosecutors can still abuse their powers. We cannot ensure competent defense counsel for all defendants. The sad truth is the wrong person can still be convicted in this day and age, and in cases where that conviction carries with it the ultimate sanction, we must have ultimate confidence I would say certitude that the system is without flaw or prejudice. Unfortunately, this is demonstrably not the case.

As Patricia Rice explains in the St. Louis Beacon, religious groups, including Catholic advocates, played a large role in helping change the governor's mind. And Whispers says Bishop Ricardo Ramirez, of Las Cruces, NM, was there when Richardson signed the bill.

Mollie Wilson O'Reilly is editor-at-large and columnist at Commonweal.

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