Change Comes From Bill Richardson
Not only do I like Gov. Richardson's conclusion, I appreciate his deliberative thought process. A two-term governor has spent time with victim's families, no question. He has witnessed the grief and the anger and the frustration. But in the end, he went with his own moral precepts.
Gov. Bill Richardson signed legislation Wednesday to repeal New Mexico's death penalty, calling it the "most difficult decision in my political life."
The legislation replaces lethal injection with 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," the Democratic governor said at a news conference in the Capitol.
New Mexicans will be safer with the punishment of life in prison without parole because the worst criminals "will never get out of prison," he said.
The language of "safety" remains prevalent, but I admire the recognition that life in prison without the possibility of parole is a sufficient deterrent, rather than using the power of the state to roll the dice on killing a potentially innocent human being.
15 states now have no death penalty, but New Mexico is just the 2nd to ban the practice since the Supreme Court's reinstatement of capital punishment in 1976. New Jersey did the same in 2007, suggesting that the issue is somewhat less politically charged. It remains a very tough move, however, and nobody really knew what Richardson would do after the legislature voted to repeal. He sought guidance from the people who elected him, a novel idea:
In preparing for his decision, the governor solicited input over the weekend from state residents. According to his office, he got more than 9,000 responses by e-mail and in person.
"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," Richardson said in prepared remarks. "That is why I'm signing this bill into law."
As a practical matter, the consequences are relatively small: New Mexico has executed but one prisoner in the last 49 years. As a moral matter, inching this country closer to the international consensus that state-sponsored killing does not comply with modern civilization, speaks volumes.