Monday, January 24, 2011

Defense attorney says it's too early to reinstate the death penalty

A prominent defense attorney, who has represented several murder clients facing the death penalty, including convicted sheriff killer Michael Paul Astorga, doesn’t want to see a repeal of New Mexico’s 2009 death penalty repeal.

Gary Mitchell told me this afternoon it’s too early to consider reversing course.

“We haven’t given it time to work,” Mitchell said. “We have a new governor, who never sought the death penalty when she was as a prosecutor, and now she wants to repeal the repeal. I don’t agree with that.”

But Roswell Republican Rep. Dennis Kintigh, isn't persuaded and today he proposed a ballot initiative measure which will put the issue in the public's hands.

Just last week, Gov. Susana Martinez called on the legislature to reinstate the death penalty, stating that “some crimes deserve the ultimate punishment."

Mitchell claims Martinez’ request is politically motivated and that she's “obligated to certain conservative right-wing groups who helped her get elected.”

Martinez made restoring the death penalty a prominent campaign issue last year, and on Tuesday she reiterated her pledge when she told legislators she believed juries should have the option to impose death.

“When a monster rapes and murders a child or a criminal kills a police officer, the death penalty should be an option for the jury,” Martinez said.

Rep. Dennis Kintigh
Before introducing today's legislation, Rep. Dennis Kintigh, R-Roswell told KOB TV he favors letting voters decide the issue and plans to sponsor a constitutional amendment.

"There's a lot of good people on both sides of the issue," Kintigh told the television station. "It's a fundamental issue of how we deal with this in society and I believe the best way to deal with these kinds of issues is to let the voters decide, give it to the voters."

Larry Larranaga
But other lawmakers don’t believe this is the year to consider the issue.

"We have very pressing issues during this legislative session," Rep. Larry Larranaga, R-Albuquerque said. "There's the budget, education reform, we've got job creation, we have the economy to look at."

The state only has two men currently on death row, and only executed one man since 1960. In 2001 Terry Clark received a legal injection after being convicted of raping and murdering a child.

When lawmakers dropped the death penalty two years ago they decided to replace it with life in prison without the possibility of parole, but allowed some then death qualified cases like Astoraga’s to continue. He was convicted last year, but the death sentence hearing has delayed while the state’s supreme court reviews petitions by Mitchell.

States Face Shortage of Key Lethal Injection Drug

While it may not become an issue in New Mexico, some states are running out of sodium thiopental, which is used to put prisoners to sleep before other drugs stop breathing and shut down the heart.

That’s because the drug’s manufacturer, Hospira Inc., decided to stop making the drug at its plant in Italy after that country decide to prohibit its export to countries who use it for capitol punishment.

Mitchell said case law would allow the state to change it’s form of executions without additional hearings, but the constitutionality of executions is still the priority.

He said some of the drugs currently used in lethal injections have caused inmates to suffer from painful deaths.

“It’s the main reason executions are not public nor video taped,” Mitchell said. “The gruesome nature of executions offend our human decency.”

Sodium Thiopental is used by 34 of the 35 states that use lethal injection to carry out the death penalty. The scarcity of sodium thiopental has led to execution delays in in at least two states, California and Oklahoma.

Michelle Lyons, a spokesperson for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice told the New York Times they have enough for two scheduled executions in Texas. Texas' supply is expected to expire in March.

“There currently are four executions scheduled in Texas — two in February, one in May and one in July,” said Michelle Lyons, director of public information at the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. At this time, we have enough sodium thiopental on hand to carry out the two executions scheduled in February.”

Last week's story in the NY Times reported an average of 55 executions have taken place annually over the last 10 years, with 46 last year and 52 in 2009, virtually all of them by lethal injection.

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Errol Chavez succumbs to cancer

Last year’s Republican candidate for state auditor Errol Chavez has died. He had been diagnosed with inoperable brain cancer just a few weeks before the 2010 election.

Chavez, who was raised in EspaƱola, talked to me for an hour after then GOP Chairman Harvey Yates announced his candidacy last January and said wanted “to save the money the state is losing by going after people who are corrupt.”

Balderas beat Chavez by more than 60,000 votes.

The former DEA agent, who originally planned to run for public land commissioner, worked 31 years for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), where he managed money laundering investigations; directed the administration’s policy implementation in Europe, Latin America and the United States; and supervised several hundred agents in various assignments.

After retiring from DEA, Chavez became the executive director of the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA), a federal drug-prohibition enforcement program. In this position, Chavez was responsible for administering and auditing $11 million of federal funds directed to law enforcement agencies and prosecutors in New Mexico.

Chavez served as president of both the Hispanic American Police Command Officers Association and the International Narcotic Enforcement Officers Association, an international law enforcement organization with 12,000 members.

Senator Ingle, who asked for a moment of silence to remember Chavez in Santa Fe this morning, said the state of New Mexico “appreciated Chavez’ willingness to serve the public his entire life. He said the state and the country is grateful to Errol Chavez”

Funeral services are still pending.
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Attorney General outlines legislative priorities

New Mexico Attorney General Gary King, a former legislator himself, said he plans to propose a number of measures to lawmakers meeting in Santa Fe for the state’s 50th Legislative Session.

His wish list includes ethics and campaign finance reforms, and Forfeiture and Drug law revisions to apply to real property seizures, along with several others.

Ethics reform was a focus of King's first term as AG and this year he plans to urge the Legislature to enact a law that prohibits government contractors from donating funds to the government officials with whom they contract, and to require full disclosure of all funds either given to them in the past or directed to other organizations, including nonprofits, at the request of the elected officials.”

King said that he wants all local government employees to be subject to the Governmental Conduct Act, the same law that state officers and workers are bound by.

King, who served 12 years in the New Mexico House of Representatives before losing his 2004 congressional bid to Rep. Steve Pearce, said his measures are “designed to improve the lives and protect the well being of all New Mexicans.”

King’s 2011 priorities (from a news release):

  • Ethics and Campaign Finance Reforms, focusing on enhanced campaign practice and government contractor disclosures. I am particularly interested in helping New Mexico enact a good, strong public disclosure law so that at a minimum all funds used for political campaign purposes, and all of the sources for those funds, are fully disclosed. Additionally, I will again urge the Legislature to enact a law that prohibits government contractors from donating funds to the government officials with whom they contract, and to require full disclosure of all funds either given to them in the past or directed to other organizations, including nonprofits, at the request of the elected officials. I intend to renew my request to have all local governments subject to the same main Ethics law that governs state officers and employees, the Governmental Conduct Act. This will incorporate a patchwork of Ethics laws into one Code, and be applicable statewide.
  • DWI and Underage Drinking Prevention...McKinley County has successfully used its ability to raise additional revenues to address serious alcohol and drug abuse problems; that option should be expanded statewide so that the voters in every state county can decide whether they want to tax sales of alcohol to provide additional funds to address alcohol and drug abuse problems.
  • Domestic Violence law improvements, especially to protect victims using Uniform Orders of Protection.
  • Criminal Law Enforcement initiatives, including Securities Laws enhancements, Child Pornography law amendments and Animal Cruelty law revisions.
  • Border Violence and Drug Enforcement issues such as Money Laundering Act revisions to update property crime violations and Administrative subpoenas for computer and bank records to investigate and prosecute sexual exploitation; ID theft and computer crimes; Forfeiture and Drug law revisions to apply to real property seizures and authorize community service improvements.
  • Consumer Protection proposals, such as a Usury cap on small loans and mortgage foreclosure practice reforms to protect innocent homeowners.
  • General Fund increased revenues for the State, including strengthening the Fraud Against Taxpayers Act and Tobacco law amendments to maximize the State’s access to full recoveries.
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