Abolition in New Mexico hailed around the world
The legislation is the result of a bi-partisan initiative in the state’s legislature and means that New Mexico became the 15th US state to abolish the death penalty.
Richardson described the move as “the most difficult decision in [his] political career”. He said: “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.”
US-based World Coalition member organisation Death Penalty Focus immediately congratulated the New Mexican authorities. “Governor Bill Richardson is a courageous and thoughtful leader who has recognized that the death penalty is an ineffective and costly response to violent crime”, said its executive director, Lance Lindsey.
The Community of Sant’Egidio, another World Coalition member based in Italy, invited Richardson to a special ceremony in Rome with the city’s mayor, Gianni Alemanno, during which the Colosseum will be illuminated to celebrate abolition in New Mexico.
“New Mexico will have a very special impact far beyond the United States by taking a courageous decision that has a universal, positive, and contagious value”, Sant’Egidio’s spokersperson Mario Marazziti wrote in a letter to Richardson.
More than 7,000 submissions in favour of repeal
Anti-death penalty activists, both in formal organisations and as individual citizens, had a key input in the governor’s decision. His office reported that 9,413 New Mexicans had called, emailed or walked in to give their opinion on the proposed legislation. Of those, 7,169 supported repeal of the death penalty. Many murder victims’ families also testified in favour of ending capital punishment.
Attention will now focus to other US states, 10 of which have considered similar measures in the pas year.
Since New Jersey abolished the death penalty in 2007, far-reaching commissions have recommended a similar course of action in California and Maryland. Parliamentarians are considering an abolition bill in Montana, where the World Coalition have been urging the governor and the Canadian authorities to prevent the execution a Canadian national on death row for more than 25 years.
April 22 update:
To find out more, read the blog posts written in Rome on April 14 and April 15 by US abolitionist Elizabeth Zitrin. Her organisation, Death Penalty Focus, will in turn honour Bill Richardson and the New Mexico Coalition for the Repeal of the Death Penalty’s executive director Viki Elkey at its annual awards dinner in Los Angeles on May 19.