Thursday, March 05, 2009


The New Mexico legislature is in session, and due to end March 17th. One controversial bill would repeal the death penalty, even though we have executed only one person since 1960.

The Albuquerque Journal, in a recent editorial, has suggested that the penalty be retained at least for murder of a prison guard. The Journal was impressed by our experience in New Mexico’s prison riot of February, 1980. Twenty-nine prisoners were murdered by prisoners, and no guards were murdered, although the guards were at the mercy of the killers. At that time, the murder of a guard was punishable by death, while the murder of a prisoner was not. The Journal seems to believe that the death penalty needs to be retained as a deterrent to murder in the killing of such guards.

I suggest that we retain the death penalty, at least for one type of crime. That is the abduction, sexual assault and deliberate murder of a female child under thirteen years of age. If there is any deterrent in our admittedly flawed system, perhaps it will save some lives of some female children. The law should also provide for moderate punishment for the abduction and assault, if the female child victim is not killed. The criminal should not face a long prison sentence for conduct short of murder.

A proponent of repeal states that the death penalty is no deterrent, or does not deter. How is this known? The federal government keeps statistics of unlawful homicides, but does not isolate, or separate out, those of wilful, deliberate, first degree murder. There may be studies which tend to show that the death penalty does not deter such murders in the first degree. We invite comments with references to any such studies, and will try to keep an open mind.