Gov. Susana Martinez’ support for reinstating the death penalty in New Mexico bucks a national trend of turning away from state-funded executions for people convicted of especially heinous crimes, according to researchers who study capital punishment in America.
Since 2000, eight states have implemented legislation or followed court orders abolishing the death penalty. During that same period, no statewide attempts to reinstate capital punishment have been successful.
In fact, no state that abolished the death penalty has brought it back since the early 1920s, according to Frank Zimring, a law professor and death penalty expert at the University of California, Berkeley.
“Once the death penalty is gone, people tend not to miss it,” says Robert Dunham, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center. “It costs a lot of money and it doesn’t work.”
New Mexico repealed the death penalty in 2009, under the administration of Gov. Bill Richardson. The state last executed a prisoner, convicted child rapist and murderer Terry Clark, in 2001.
Gov. Martinez, a former prosecutor, on Wednesday announced that she will push lawmakers to reinstate the “ultimate penalty” during the next legislative session, raising criticism from Democrats and advocacy groups who say taxpayer-funded executions should remain a part of New Mexico’s past.
The governor cited the recent killing of a Hatch police officer and the kidnapping and murder of a 9-year-old Navajo girl as crimes that should be eligible for execution. (Martinez’ husband, Chuck Franco, is a retired police officer.)
It is not uncommon in the modern era for death penalty proponents to call press conferences after highly publicized killings of police officers, says Dunham, but these efforts “typically go nowhere.”
“I’m sure there are people who will pay attention and applaud. That doesn’t mean anything is going to happen,” says Zimring. “Welcome to the United States.”
New Mexico’s move to repeal the death penalty did not apply to two prisoners currently awaiting execution.
Robert Fry was sentenced to death in 2000 for murdering a mother of five. He was also convicted of two prior murders. Timothy Allen was convicted for the strangling death of a teenager.
Both defendants are awaiting their fate on a sentencing appeal with the the Supreme Court claiming that the the 2009 repeal should apply to them as well. Attorneys for the prisoners presented arguments to the Court in October.
Ray Twohig, one of the attorneys representing Allen, says Martinez’ announcement doesn’t change anything about his appeal process.
“It seems like a foolish, ill-conceived, unlikely effort that reflects she is living in the politics of the past,” Twohig says.
According to Dunham, Delaware is the only other state where inmates await execution despite the state having abolished capital punishment.
Governors in New Jersey and Maryland commuted the sentences of condemned inmates after repealing the death penalty. The Connecticut Supreme Court ruled that executing prisoners after abolishing capital punishment would violate the state’s constitution.
While public opinion for the death penalty has remained steady over the last decade—about 60 percent of Americans support it—executions have declined. 2015 saw 28 executions in America, the fifth most in the world after China, Iran, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia.