Effective July 1, 2009, there will be no death penalty in New Mexico. Capital punishment will still apply to any capital crimes committed between now and midnight on June 30th. – and there has been no change in the punishment of death for the two men currently residing on New Mexico’s Death Row.

Albuquerque’s Sheriff Darren White Leading an Effort to Put It to a State-Wide Vote

Not everyone in New Mexico is pleased with this development. Sheriff Darren White is reportedly investigating the possibility of putting capital punishment to a full state-wide vote, which would enact an amendment to the New Mexico constitution approving of the death penalty for certain types of crimes.

According to Sheriff White, he’s undertaking this action because of the large number of phone calls he’s received from the citizenry, who are upset about the change. White says that state polls show a majority of New Mexicans are in favor of capital punishment.

Undoubtedly, Sheriff White will be assisted and supported by prosecutors across the state, as well as the New Mexico Sheriffs’ and Police Association, as well as other law enforcement organizations that were against the New Mexico repeal efforts.

What About the Two Men on New Mexico’s Death Row?

Since 1933, New Mexico has executed nine (9) individuals – all men – using three different methods : one by gas, one by lethal injection, the rest by electric chair. That’s not a high death rate.

Still, there are two men — Robert Fry and Timothy Allen – who currently set on New Mexico’s Death Row, each sentenced to death by lethal injection. And, even if New Mexico has changed its position on the penalty of death, there’s no legal change altering the pending death sentence for these two men.

Under the law, it is possible that New Mexico’s governor, Bill Richardson, can save them from death by commuting their sentences, transforming their punishments to serving life without parole.

The prosecutor in both cases, of course, has been quoted as being firmly against Gov. Richardson taking this action – he’s arguing it would be against “due process,” since two juries (and several appellate panels) have approved of their death sentences.

And, Governor Bill Richardson has already told the Associated Press that he has no intention of commuting the sentences of either Fry or Allen.

Which leaves us with the question: if a state decides to repeal its death penalty, then should it be retroactive to those currently setting on Death Row?

  •  Don’t the budgetary concerns that are the purported basis of the repeal apply to these two men?
  •  Don’t the moral considerations voiced by those seeking to abolish the death penalty apply to them as well?
  •  Is it form over substance for New Mexico to keep Death Row open, just until these two men die?