After an emotional debate that lasted more than two hours, the state House of Representatives voted 40 to 28 in favor of repealing the death penalty.
House Bill 285 now goes to the Senate, where it is expected to have a tougher time.
This is the third time in recent years that the House has voted to ban capital punishment and replace it with life in prison without possibility of parole.
Some backers said they aren’t sure about the bill’s prospects in the Senate Judiciary Committee, where similar bills died in 2005 and 2007.
Death penalty bills normally are assigned to Judiciary as well as the Senate Public Affairs Committee, which in the past has given capital-punish repeals a do-pass recommendation.
During Thursday’s floor debate, Rep. Dennis Kintigh, R-Roswell, a retired FBI agent, made an emotional plea to keep the death penalty. He talked at length about one of his cases, the 2000 slaying of a former prison guard and his son at their Lovington home. Three members of a prison gang, Luis Cisneros, Paul Eppinger and Angel Rivera, eventually pleaded guilty to the murders.
Kintigh said he worked the case for six years and was deeply disappointed when the U.S. attorney didn’t seek the death penalty. He became emotional when he spoke of one of the younger victims in the case, Jose Moreno Jr.
But in response to opponents’ arguments that killers who commit heinous crimes deserve the ultimate sentence, the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Gail Chasey, D-Albuquerque, said, “Life in prison with parole is the ultimate sentence.”
Some speculated that the vote on the death penalty would pass the House by a larger margin because Democrats picked up six seats there in the general election. However, the vote was nearly identical to the House’s 2007 vote on a similar bill, which passed 41-28. The vote was nearly party-line with most Democrats supporting the repeal and most Republicans opposed.
There were exceptions, however. Reps. Diane Hamilton, R-Silver City, and Jimmy Hall, R-Albuquerque, who have opposed the bill in the past, voted to pass HB285. Other Republicans who voted in favor of the bill were Reps. Larry Larranaga and Janice Arnold-Jones, both of Albuquerque. They also had voted in favor of the bill in 2007.
Seven Democrats voted against abolishing the death penalty. They were Debbie Rodella of Espanola — who supported the bill in 2007 — along with Rhonda King of Stanley, Joseph Cervantes of Las Cruces, John Heaton of Carlsbad, Dona Irwin of Deming, Henry “Kiki” Saavedra and Benjamin Rodefer of Corrales.
One Democrat who voted against the bill last time, Andrew Barreras of Tome, voted in favor of HB285 on Wednesday.
Contact Steve Terrell at 986-3037 or firstname.lastname@example.org