So you've heard the cliché: "Today is the first day of the rest of your life." Well, for New Mexico, today is the first day the criminal justice system will value life. Last night Gov. Bill Richardson signed a bill that repealed the death penalty and replaced it with the sentence of life without parole. (The bill does not commute the sentences of the two people on death row or stop the state from seeking death for people who had already been charged with a capital crime.)
In Gov. Richardson's press release, he says that while he still believes in the death penalty "for the most heinous crimes," his decision was "the end of a long, personal journey." The uncertainty in the capital punishment process concerned the governor, which is clear when he stated: "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 knew he would be confronted withtwo decisions: he "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." We are pleased that he chose the former.
The same decision may have to be made by Gov. Brian Schweitzer if Montana's repeal bill continues to move. The bill has already passed through the Montana House of Representatives, and it will be heard by a senate committee on March 25. Maryland's house will decide on a bill which will limit the cases where capital punishment may be sought. Positive developments have also happened in Kansas and Colorado during this legislative session.
Today we celebrate New Mexico and those who fought so hard for abolition of the death penalty in their state. For some, today is the first day in the rest of their lives. We know for certain that today is one day closer to the last day of capital punishment in the United States.