Gov. Richardson Listens to Murder Victim Survivors, Ends New Mexico’s Death Penalty

Mar 18, 2009
ACLU of Northern California

Page Media

ACLU of Northern CA

On March 18 2009, New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson signed a bill ending the death penalty in his state, replacing it with permanent imprisonment. Gov. Richardson’s courageous act makes New Mexico the third state – following New Jersey and New York in 2007 – to end the death penalty in favor of an alternative that better supports the needs of victims and the public safety concerns for all New Mexicans.

Governor Richardson had been a long time supporter of the death penalty, but began rethinking his position when he became Governor six years ago. Richardson cited several reasons for his change of heart, including the needs of victims, the overrepresentation of people of color in prison and on death row, and the possibility of executing an innocent person. More than 130 death row inmates have been exonerated in the past 10 years, including four in New Mexico.

Ultimately Richardson determined he, “[did] 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. 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.”

Gov. Richardson sought extensive public input before making his final decision, reportedly receiving 12,000 responses by phone, email and personal visits, with more than 75% in favor of repeal. The most persuasive voices came from murder victim survivors who oppose the death penalty, each for their own reason.

Michelle Giger’s father was murdered in Santa Rosa, New Mexico and explains, “people who commit acts of violence deserve to be held accountable, and the rest of us deserve to be protected from them. Surely, we can we do that, though, without acting just like them and becoming killers ourselves.”

Andrea Vigil lost her husband Carlos to murder in Santa Fe, and says, “If I had taken up that anger and hate, I'd have never moved forward. The anger should be put into a different energy for the person you love-to give their life some meaning. Anger and hate-the death penalty-is not what I want surrounding Carlos.”

Maiya and Patrick Tyrrell also experienced the full range of emotions in response to the murder of Maiya’s brother, but realized that, “focusing on revenge only arrested our healing process.”

Other murder victim survivors have explained that the lengthy death penalty trials and appeals prevent their healing process, and that they would be much better served re-investing the $4 million spent on the death penalty each year in New Mexico on counseling and other comprehensive services. By replacing the death penalty with permanent imprisonment, Gov. Richardson ensures that violent offenders are punished and kept off the streets, the cases are closed, and more money is available to truly help victims heal from their loss.

Governor Richardson’s decision to replace the death penalty in New Mexico adds momentum to a growing movement for repeal. Several other states have considered legislation in recent months to limit or replace the death penalty, as more legislators are persuaded by the voices of murder victim survivors calling for an end to executions.

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