Rep. Kintigh introduces amendment

January 25, 2011 • Local News

A local lawmaker says he wants to see the state’s death penalty repeal overturned for certain crimes and favors having the issue appear on a ballot for voters to decide, rather than through legislation.

Rep. Dennis Kintigh, RRoswell, introduced a constitutional amendment on the floor of the state House of Representatives, Monday. If approved, the measure would result in a ballot initiative.

“This is a way to put the matter before the voters, because everyone is going to feel obliged to respect the voters,” he said. The lawmaker says the issue is personal to him and comes after 25 years in law enforcement, including a career with the FBI and more recently as the Interim Chief of the Roswell Police Department. He cites a January 2000 case where two men, a father and son, were [auth] murdered in Lovington, as one of the reasons why people who murder in cold blood should be put to death. “I believe, fundamentally, that this is about justice,” he said.

“It’s not about deterrence or this and that, it’s about justice.” However, Kintigh’s proposal must be approved by two-thirds of both houses before it could appear on a ballot. It will also likely meet resistance from opponents to the death penalty, particulary those who advocated its repeal. “We have thousands of members in New Mexico who, the minute a bill is dropped, will be mobilized and contacting their legislators and the governor,” said Viki Elkey, executive director of The New Mexico Coalition to Repeal the Death Penalty.

Elkey pointed to flaws in the justice system where innocent people were exonerated after sitting on death row and also to the costs involved with and incumbered by the state in court appeals, as some of the reasons why reinstating the death penalty is not beneficial to New Mexico.

“I just think that if people really knew the information and really looked at all the problems with the death penalty, (they would oppose it),” she said. “We’re ready to let people know and ready to continue our education.”

Kintigh’s joint house resolution comes after Gov. Susana Martinez announced during her State of the State address, that she is “calling on the Legislature to repeal the repeal and reinstate the death penalty.” The governor’s office indicated Martinez would likely pursue the issue by way of legislation.

“The governor supports reinstating the death penalty and believes this can be a statutory change,” said Martinez spokesman Scott Darnell.

However, Kintigh says a constitutional amendment would make it tougher to reverse at a later time, albeit harder to accomplish because it requires a large portion of lawmaker approval before even appearing on a ballot.

“I recognize that people are opposed to it, but what I hope is those people will consider that this is an opportunity for citizens of the state to decide,” Kintigh said.

Legislation to repeal the state’s death penalty was signed by Gov. Bill Richardson in March 2009. The law replaced lethal injection with a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole. Kintigh’s constitutional amendment would call for the death penalty only in certain situations, including cases where law enforcement officers or prison guards are killed.

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