Gov. Martinez resumes fight for death penalty in N.M. for cop killers and child murderers

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Gov. Susana Martinez is resuming her fight to reinstate the death penalty in New Mexico, where it was banned in 2009. On Tuesday she vowed to include the issue on the agenda for a pending special session related to the state’s budget.

Martinez, a second-term Republican governor and former district attorney, said in a statement that she wants the death penalty as an option for convicted killers of police, children and corrections officers.

"Cop killers and child murderers deserve the ultimate punishment," she said in a written statement. "If you kill an officer, you deserve the death penalty. If you kill a child, you deserve the death penalty. It's time we say enough is enough."

In 2009 New Mexico repealed the death penalty by replacing provisions for lethal injection with a sentence of life in prison without parole.

Martinez unsuccessfully backed legislation to reinstate the death penalty shortly after taking office in 2011, when Democrats held a majority in both chambers of the Legislature.

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The move by Martinez seeks a rare reversal even as capital punishment has fallen out of favor in many states. It could compel local lawmakers to take a public stand on capital punishment ahead of November elections for the Republican-controlled state House of Representatives and Democrat-dominated state Senate.

Her push to restore capital punishment follows the killings in southern New Mexico of two police officers in separate shootings in August and September by wanted fugitives, plus last month's horrific sexual assault, killing and dismemberment of 10-year-old girl Victoria Martens in Albuquerque.

The death penalty legislation backed by Martinez is being sponsored by Republican state lawmakers representing home districts of the girl and slain police officer Jose Chavez, gunned down by a fugitive from Ohio in the southern village of Hatch.

"It is something that rocked the community I represent," Rep. Monica Youngblood of Albuquerque said of Victoria's killing. "I vowed to do whatever I could to make sure that she gets justice."

The effort to reinstate New Mexico's death penalty was quickly condemned by opponents who labeled it as political opportunism designed to unseat vulnerable Democrats or shortcut a substantive debate on capital punishment.

"I think the polling probably shows that they have the option to use this politically," said Democratic Rep. Gail Chasey, an Albuquerque attorney who works on child neglect cases. "The governor cannot be serious about this really being the answer to these problems."

New Mexico executed nine men starting in 1933 until more than seven decades later when it abolished the death penalty.

The state's most recent execution in 2001 of child-killer Terry Clark was its first since 1960. Clark raped and murdered a 9-year-old girl in 1986 a year after he was convicted of raping another young girl.

Former Gov. Bill Richardson, a Democrat, cited flaws in how the death penalty was applied when he signed the legislation that abolished it — saying the criminal justice system must be perfect to be used to put someone to death.

New Mexico still has two inmates on death row. Timothy Allen and Robert Fry were convicted and sentenced to death for murders committed years before the 2009 repeal.

Capital punishment currently is authorized in 30 states. States including Illinois, Connecticut and Maryland abolished the death penalty through legislation after New Mexico. Last month, Delaware's Supreme Court declared the state's death penalty law unconstitutional.

Amber Widgery, a death penalty policy specialist at the National Conference of State Legislatures, said no state has enacted a law to reinstate capital punishment after a legislative repeal over the last 40 years.

"I haven't seen a reinstatement bill get traction in recent memory," she said.

Under an unusual petition drive, Nebraska voters will decide in November whether to override last year's abolition of the death penalty by the state's Republican-controlled Legislature.

Based on reporting by the Associated Press.

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