New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson signed a bill Wednesday repealing the death penalty in his state, his office confirmed.
“Regardless of my personal opinion about the death penalty, I do not 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,” Richardson said in a statement Wednesday. He noted that more than 130 death row inmates have been exonerated in the past 10 years, including four in New Mexico. “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,” he said. With the governor’s decision, New Mexico joins 14 other states that don’t impose the death penalty. Several states, including Colorado, Kansas, Maryland and Montana, are considering changes to their capital punishment laws. The bill replaces the death penalty with life without the possibility of parole.
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“Throughout my adult life, I have been a firm believer in the death penalty as a just punishment — in very rare instances, and only for the most heinous crimes. I still believe that,” Richardson, a Democrat, said. “The issue became more real to me because I knew the day would come when one of two things might happen: I would either have to take action on legislation to repeal the death penalty, or more daunting, I might have to sign someone’s death warrant.” Richardson said the criminal justice system is “inherently defective” in its use of the death penalty, adding that he was bothered by the fact that minorities are “over-represented in the prison population and on death row.” Minorities make up more than half of the death row population nationwide, according to the Washington-based Death Penalty Information Center, a nonprofit group that opposes the death penalty. The state legislature approved the measure last Friday. Prior to signing the legislation, Richardson received thousands of e-mails and phone calls weighing in on the matter. As of noon Wednesday, the governor’s office said it had received 10,847 phone calls, e-mails and walk-in comments from people who wanted to voice their opinions on the legislation. Of those, 8,102 were for a repeal of the death penalty and 2,745 were against it, according to Richardson’s office. In addition, Richardson met Monday with more than 100 New Mexicans to discuss the issue, his office said. Other states also have considered repealing their capital punishment laws this year. In Kansas, state senators voted Monday to send such a bill back to committee, The Kansas City Star reported.