Santa Fe Archbishop John C. Wester says it’s “offensive” that Republicans in the state House of Representatives voted to reinstate the death penalty “in the dark of night” Thursday.
“I find it blasphemous that the state wants to take a human life,” Wester said during a news conference Thursday morning at the Capitol. House Republicans pushed through the bill at about 6 a.m. after a long debate in the predawn hours.
Wester said the 36 House Republicans who voted to reinstate the death penalty for those convicted of killing a child or police officer engaged in “political jockeying.” The general election in which all 70 House seats will be filled is only a month away, and Republicans are fighting to maintain control of the chamber. They now have a 37-33 advantage.
Wester called on Republican Gov. Susana Martinez, who has made reinstating the death penalty part of this year’s special session, to end her immediate push for the measure. Wester argued that, if Republican lawmakers see the need to reconsider capital punishment, they should wait for the regular 60-day session beginning in mid-January, so all segments of the public could be heard.
New Mexico repealed the death penalty in 2009. Three sitting House Republicans who voted to end capital punishment then reversed themselves Thursday. Reps. Dianne Hamilton of Silver City and Jimmie Hall and Larry Larañaga of Albuquerque joined other Republicans in voting for reinstatement of death sentences in select cases.
All 30 Democrats on hand Thursday voted against the death-penalty bill.
Former state District Judge Michael Vigil, who joined Wester at the news conference, said including the death penalty in the special session “does not allow for deliberation and debate.”
Vigil said the governor was taking “cheap political advantage” of several recent high-profile crimes, including the sexual assault and dismemberment of 10-year-old Victoria Martens of Albuquerque, to gain points during an election season.
Gov. Martinez’s spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Vigil said the state should first research how much reinstating the death penalty will cost taxpayers. He said a similar study in Nevada, conducted when that state was considering a return to capital punishment, showed that pursuing and prosecuting such cases costs twice as much as other murder cases.
Wester said he had not yet spoken to the governor about his concerns because of the speed in which Thursday morning’s House vote occurred. He said he would like to meet with her to voice his opposition, but has the sense no one who is in support of the death penalty wants to have such a discussion.
He and Vigil said they are going to ask lawmakers from both parties to stop the bill before the end of the special session.
It remains unclear whether the Democrat-controlled Senate will even consider the bill after it reconvenes Thursday.
Contact Robert Nott at 505-986-3021 or [email protected].