LOS ANGELES (AFP) — New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson made his state the 15th in the nation to outlaw capital punishment when he signed a law abolishing the death penalty, his office said.
"I have decided to sign legislation that repeals the death penalty in the state of New Mexico," Richardson said in a statement, adding the move marked "the end of a long, personal journey for me."
Rights groups urged Richardson, who ran a brief bid for the US presidency in 2008, to sign the law after New Mexico's Senate voted Friday to abolish the death penalty. The measure had already been approved by the lower chamber.
"Regardless of my personal opinion about the death penalty, 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 said.
"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.
"But the reality is the system is not perfect -- far from it. The system is inherently defective. DNA testing has proven that. Innocent people have been put on death row all across the country."
Richardson said that he had been a "firm believer in the death penalty as a just punishment," and that he still believed it was appropriate to mete out capital punishment for the most serious crimes.
"But six years ago, when I took office as governor of the state of New Mexico, I started to challenge my own thinking on the death penalty," he said.
Richardson said what convinced him to change his mind was "the finality of this ultimate punishment. Once a conclusive decision has been made and executed, it cannot be reversed. And it is in consideration of this, that I have made my decision."
Richardson, who is Mexican-American, also said that he was disturbed "that minorities are overrepresented in the prison population and on death row."
Rights groups had been pressing Richardson to ban capital punishment since the state Senate voted to abolish it last week.
American Civil Liberties Union director John Holdridge, convinced Richardson would sign the bill into law, said on Tuesday that the governor "deserves credit for taking seriously the reality that the bankrupting system of capital punishment cannot be statistically or legally defended."
"Beyond the exorbitant cost to the taxpayers of maintaining the death penalty, there are serious and rampant flaws inherent to our nation's capital punishment system that cannot be ignored," Holdridge added.
Supporters of the new law said that replacing the death sentence with life in prison without parole will save the state more than one million dollars each year. Opponents believe the death penalty is a deterrent to the most heinous crimes.
New Mexico has executed only one inmate since the US Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976. It currently has two inmates awaiting execution.
Richardson, 61, was President Barack Obama's pick to be commerce secretary and would have been the most prominent Hispanic in his cabinet, but he withdrew his name in early January before Obama was sworn into office, because of an investigation into a company doing business with his state of New Mexico.
Copyright © 2013 AFP. All rights reserved. More »