This evening, HB 285 to abolish the death penalty in New Mexico and replace it with life without parole passed the House of Representatives by a vote of 40-28. Our sponsor, Representative Gail Chasey was praised by everyone who spoke (including the opposition) for her passion and perseverance for seeking repeal in New Mexico. She is a true advocate, and most of us we moved to tears more than once as we listened to her eloquently and intelligently show why New Mexico must repeal the death penalty.
Representative Chasey started by saying it is “time for New Mexico to do this,” and that she would present “an emotional issue that contained rational, fiscal and ethical considerations.” She then went on to describe the change in this country by reading excerpts from an editorial from Alabama, another from Arizona, and NJ Senator Lesniak’s award-winning speech.
She then put forth specific reasons for abolishing the death penalty in New Mexico — it costs more to keep the death penalty than to impose life without parole in those cases, it is not a deterrent, it is about fairness to the victims and society, and that the death penalty offered “false hope for victims.” She also read from MVFR’s Not in Our Name New Mexico book that all Legislators received on Repeal Day, telling of MVFR member Maurice Moya who tragically lost his daughter-in-law in 2006 and how as a former Albuquerque police officer he knew the death penalty did not work, and would not bring “closure to his family.”
When speaking of innocence, she talked about the tragic injustice that NM Repeal steering committee member, Juan Melendez, endured on Florida’s death row for nearly 18 years, and of the four innocent men sentenced to death in New Mexico who were freed after being just “nine days away from execution at one point.”
She finished her opening by letting the Legislators know that 64% of New Mexicans support repealing the death penalty, replacing it with life without parole and restitution to victims’ families, so their constituents were “with us.” No abolition movement could ask for a more powerful and dedicated leader, and we thank you Representative Chasey!
And she was not alone in her wish for repeal. Other Representatives who stood up and spoke in support of repeal included Representative Antonio Lujan who said that we should “join most civil countries who have gotten rid of the death penalty, assuming we were civil,” and Representative Andrew Barreras who said that he “felt very strongly that all New Mexicans could feel good about this bill.”
Representative Moe Maestas said there was “no therapeutic value to the death penalty,” and that instead, “it is nothing more than state sponsored revenge, not justice.” Representative Brian Egolf said he believed in God and that man “can never be perfect, therefore we always run the risk that we make a mistake.”
Newly elected Representative Eleanor Chavez said she was honored to be a part of the debate, and shared how her family had been on both sides of the violence created by murder. One of her cousins shot and killed her husband, and they reached out for forgiveness from his family. A few years later another cousin was murdered, and she remembered that “nobody in my family wanted the death penalty for that person.”
Another newly elected Representative Sandra Jeff also said she was glad to be a part of the discussion, and spoke most passionately about her native people and the unjustness many generations of her family have endured, and wondered “did my people deserve that?” She spoke of the first Native American put on Federal Death Row in 2001, then she read Kathy Bowman’s (New Mexico Coaltion to Repeal the Death Penalty member and MVFR member) statement on why she opposes the death penalty after losing family members to murder. Representative Jeff said she believes in the “sanctity of life” and that we always risk “putting someone innocent to death.”
The last two Representatives who spoke for repealing the death penalty were Representative and House Majority Floor Leader Ken Martinez and Representative Roger Madalena. Representative Martinez reiterated what he said in the House Judiciary committee last week, cautioning the Legislature to “never elevate government over individuals and never give the government more rights than the people have,” advice he received from his distinguished father, former House Speaker Walter Martinez. Representative Madalena spoke of being from the pueblo, and how his people had “embraced Roman Catholic beliefs and combined them with their own spirituality,” and that those beliefs said the “Creator determines how much time people spend on earth, not people.”
It was great debate, and we are excited to head to the Senate and start again with our committee assignments and Floor vote there. Thanks to everyone for your support and for letting your Legislators know we want repeal in New Mexico in 2009!