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Editorial: Murder Shouldn’t Be Game of Beat the Clock

Justice for taking a life should not be an all-or-nothing race against the clock. Yet in New Mexico, if the charge is anything less than first-degree murder, that’s exactly what it is.

So point a handgun and empty it at your frail and disabled husband, then dump his body in a hole in the backyard and pour a concrete slab over it. Bide your time and hope six years pass before anyone gets wise. Then kiss second-degree murder charges goodbye.

Welcome to the deal Ellen Snyder cut with prosecutors.

Snyder is serving a paltry 11 years for killing her husband, Mike, after racking up $475,000 in debt, then firing eight bullets from a borrowed gun at him. She was able to plead down to voluntary manslaughter because the statute of limitations had run out on everything she was charged with except for first-degree murder.

New Mexico’s bar for first-degree murder is rightly a high one. It requires prosecutors to prove beyond a reasonable doubt the killing was premeditated or committed during the commission of a felony. Do that, and there is no statute of limitations on justice. But with Snyder, prosecutors hedged their bets and took 11 years rather than risk getting nothing. But nothing is what Mike’s family felt about the justice that was delivered.

State Rep. William “Bill” Rehm, R-Albuquerque, wants to change that for the families of victims going forward.

Rehm says he will introduce legislation this session to scrap the six-year statute of limitations for second-degree murder and increase the time underlying conspiracy and tampering with evidence charges can be prosecuted. It’s not an unprecedented move — back in 1997 lawmakers eliminated the statute of limitations for first-degree murder.

And it’s a move lawmakers need to make to ensure justice for taking a life in New Mexico is no longer reduced to a game of beat the clock.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.