Copyright © 2016 Albuquerque Journal
SANTA FE – As debate rages at the Roundhouse and around New Mexico after recent killings rocked the state, a new Journal Poll has found that nearly two-thirds of likely state voters support reinstating the death penalty for certain violent crimes.
Sixty-five percent of likely voters said they would favor reinstating the death penalty for individuals convicted of killing children, police officers or corrections officers, while 28 percent of voters said they would oppose doing so. The rest of those surveyed either had mixed feelings or wouldn’t say.
Debate over the controversial punishment has reignited in recent weeks after the death of 10-year-old Victoria Martens of Albuquerque, who police say was drugged, raped and killed, and the killings of police officers in Hatch and Alamogordo. Police officers were also shot and killed last year in Rio Rancho and Albuquerque.
“These are fresh in the minds of New Mexico voters, so I’m not surprised to see support as high as it is,” said Journal pollster Brian Sanderoff, president of Research & Polling Inc.
Gov. Susana Martinez announced last month that she would add reinstatement of the death penalty to the agenda of an ongoing special legislative session, along with two other crime-related proposals.
The two-term Republican governor, a former prosecutor, said cop killers and child murderers deserve the ultimate punishment.
“It’s time we say enough is enough,” Martinez said.
However, opponents of the death penalty have criticized the governor for adding the issue to the special session mix, with Archbishop of Santa Fe John C. Wester blasting the proposal as a politically motivated “red herring” aimed at distracting lawmakers from a precipitous state revenue downturn.
The Journal Poll asked voters whether they would support or oppose reinstating the death penalty for individuals convicted of killing children, police officers or correctional officers, essentially the proposal being pushed by Gov. Martinez.
Registered Republicans were more likely than Democrats to support reinstatement, but a majority of Democratic voters surveyed – 54 percent – also said they favored the proposal, the Journal Poll found.
Meanwhile, about two-thirds of independent voters surveyed – 68 percent – said they would support bringing back the death penalty, while 29 percent of voters in the growing bloc of independent voters said they oppose the proposal.
Hispanic voters were almost as likely as Anglo voters to support reinstatement of the death penalty, while voters with graduate degrees were far less likely to favor the proposed reinstatement of capital punishment than were those with college degrees, high school diplomas or less formal education.
Repealed in 2009
New Mexico had the death penalty on its books for years, but then-Gov. Bill Richardson signed legislation in 2009 repealing capital punishment and replacing it with a maximum sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Opponents of the death penalty had argued that capital punishment was not cost-effective, and Richardson, a Democrat, said at the time he signed the repeal bill into law that he did not have enough confidence in the criminal justice system to be the final arbiter of who lived and who died.
However, the repeal applied only to crimes committed after its effective date, and two inmates – Robert Fry and Timothy Allen – remain on death row in New Mexico.
Before abolishing the death penalty, New Mexico had executed just one inmate since 1960. That happened in 2001, when Terry Clark received a lethal injection after having been convicted of raping and killing Dena Lynn Gore, a 9-year-old Artesia girl.
Nationally, there’s been a movement away from the death penalty. Twenty states, including New Mexico, currently do not have death penalty laws on their books, and four states – Illinois, Connecticut, Maryland and Nebraska – have abolished capital punishment in the past five years, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
At the ongoing special session at the state Capitol, the proposal to reinstate New Mexico’s death penalty passed its first House committee on a party-line vote Friday – with Republicans in favor and Democrats opposed – and could be debated by the full House today.
However, even if approved in the GOP-controlled House, the measure could face long odds in the Democratic-controlled Senate, as many Senate Democrats have said they believe the special session should focus on a massive state budget shortfall and not other issues.
The Journal Poll is based on a scientific, statewide sample of 501 voters who said they planned to vote this year and either cast ballots in the 2012 or 2014 general elections or just registered to vote.
The poll was conducted Sept. 27 through Sept. 29. The full voter sample has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.4 percentage points. The margin of error grows for subsamples.
All interviews were conducted by live, professional interviewers, with multiple callbacks to households that did not initially answer the phone.
Both cellphone numbers (52 percent) and landlines (48 percent) of proven general election voters were used.