Aiming to reinstate death penalty
Bill, which Rep. Block says would be option in ‘very grave circumstances,’ comes 14 years after Richardson signed law ending practice
Follow Daniel J. Chacón on Twitter @danieljchacon.
Santa Fe New Mexican
LOCAL & REGION
A freshman Republican in the state House of Representatives is spearheading a proposal to reinstate the death penalty in New Mexico as part of an effort to deter violent crime. Rep. John Block, R-Alamogordo, said Monday the death penalty would be an option for prosecutors to pursue only under “very grave circumstances,” such as the murder of a police officer or a child. “We’re not going to give it to every Tom, Dick and Harry that gets arrested for a little bit of fentanyl,” he said. “It’s essentially if you’re super violent and if you’re a crazy murderer or rapist, you should not be walking the streets or even be subsidized by the taxpayers in a state penitentiary for 30 years until you die,” Block added. The longshot push to reinstate the death penalty comes 14 years after former Gov. Bill Richardson signed legislation to abolish it, making New Mexico the 15th state to do so. Richardson, who died in September, struggled with the decision. “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,” he said in a statement at the time. “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,” he said. “The system is inherently defective. DNA testing has proven that. Innocent people have been put on death row all across the country.” A spokesperson for the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico did not return a message seeking comment. But Maddy Hayden, a spokeswoman for Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, wrote in an email the proposal would have little impact. “It is widely accepted that the death penalty has no meaningful deterrent effect on violent crime,” she wrote. Block, a staunch abortionrights opponent with Santa Fe roots who describes himself as pro-life, said the death penalty is not murder but justice. He said he anticipates his critics will try to portray his as pro-death. “That’s what I’m sure the argument is going to be from certain people who are saying, ‘Well, if you claim to be prolife, why are you supporting capital punishment?’ ” he said. “I would tell them very simply, ensuring these people are not on the streets to go killing and raping again is actually the very definition of pro-life because we are ensuring that the lives of law-abiding citizens in the state are protected. I believe in protecting life, and this is another way to do that.” Block noted his proposal includes a number of caveats. For example, a death sentence could not be imposed on someone with an intellectual disability or on a pregnant woman. “There would be a suspension of the execution until the baby is born,” he said. The proposal calls for execution only by lethal injection, which Block said is the “most humane” way to do it. Block’s proposal was among several pieces of legislation the Courts, Corrections and Justice Committee was poised to consider as part of its legislative priorities for the upcoming 30-day session starting in January. The committee postponed the discussion until December to give members and the public time to review the proposed bills, which were not posted online before Monday’s committee meeting. Block said he didn’t know whether his proposal would generate support. “I’m not sure, actually, because I don’t think there’s been a capital punishment bill put forward in a few years,” he said. “We have a lot of new members who are part of the Legislature. I don’t know where legislators stand on the issue.” Block said communities across New Mexico are seeing an influx of violent crime and the state should fight back with tougher penalties. He called sentencing guidelines for violent offenders weak. “Right now, we’re at a turning point where we have horrible violent crime happening across New Mexico, everywhere from my district where a police officer was shot in the face by a felon who should never have been out on pretrial detention to begin with to Albuquerque where you see a new homicide every day almost,” he said. “I want New Mexico to be the most hostile place in the nation for violent criminal offenders so that we can protect our constituents.”