By Steve Terrell: The Santa Fe New Mexican
With shaking hands and a quivering voice, a Las Vegas, N.M., woman whose son was executed by the state of Texas asked the New Mexico House of Representatives on Thursday to end capital punishment in this state.
Though committee members’ minds probably were made up before Muina Arthur made her emotional plea, the House Consumer and Public Affairs Committee voted 5-2 to give a do-pass recommendation to House Bill 285, which would abolish the death penalty and replace it with life in prison without possibility of parole.
“I am the survivor of a murder victim,” Arthur told the panel. “When Texas murdered him, it altered my life. … My family, my friends, my community all have been damaged. It was because of his execution.”
Karl Eugene Chamberlain, one of Arthur’s nine children, was put to death by lethal injection in Texas on June 11, 2008. His mother said Thursday her son was guilty. According to online Texas Department of Criminal Justice records, Chamberlain was convicted of raping and killing Felecia Prechtl, a 30-year-old neighbor in Dallas, in 1991. He was just a few days shy of his 38th birthday when he was put to death.
Chamberlain spent much of his childhood in Northern New Mexico, Arthur said.
She said it was extremely difficult coming to grips with the fact her son had committed such a horrible crime.
Her son’s crimes and his execution took a terrible toll on her own life, Arthur said. Her marriage fell apart and, she said, “I was a patient in the state hospital (in Las Vegas) several times during the continuing ordeal.”
Several others spoke against the death penalty. These included Andrea Vigil, whose husband Carlos Vigil, a Santa Fe criminal lawyer, was murdered on his way to the county courthouse in 1999, and Allen Sanchez, director of the New Mexico Conference of Catholic Bishops, who quoted Mother Teresa.
The committee’s vote — a straight-party vote with Democrats voting yes and Republicans voting no — was no surprise. The committee has given the bill the go-ahead whenever it has been introduced in at least the last nine sessions.
In recent years, the entire House has passed the bill only to have it die in the Senate Judiciary Committee.
However, bill sponsor Rep. Gail Chasey, Albuquerque, said after the vote that she’s confident the bill will make it through Senate Judiciary this year.
Even if it passes the Legislature, a big question remains whether Gov. Bill Richardson would sign it. He has said in the past he supports capital punishment. Advocates hope that since he no longer is running for president, Richardson will have a change of heart.
Arthur said she recently ran into the governor at a local Indian restaurant and asked him to sign Chasey’s bill. She said Richardson was very courteous but only promised to “look at the bill” if the Legislature passes it.
One area in which abolition advocates have lost allies is among House Republicans. Four of six Republicans who voted for Chasey’s death-penalty repeal bill in 2007 are no longer in the Legislature. Of those six, only Larry Larranaga and Janice Arnold-Jones, both of Albuquerque, still remain.
New Mexico has executed just one person since 1960, child killer and rapist Terry Clark, who was given lethal injection in 2001.
There currently are only two convicted murders on death row in New Mexico: Robert Fry of Farmington and Timothy Allen of Bloomfield. Their sentences wouldn’t be affected even if HB 285 is signed into law.
Contact Steve Terrell at 986-3037 or firstname.lastname@example.org.