Governor, we can’t afford another wrong man on death row
March 15, 2009
BY LESLIE LINTHICUM
(Originally published on the front page of the March 15 edition of The Albuquerque Journal.)
Everyone is free to read this column, but it is written specifically for only one of you, Gov. Bill Richardson.
Governor, you hold the power of life and death in your hands right now. You have the opportunity to sign House Bill 285, which abolishes the death penalty and replaces it with life imprisonment without parole.
Before you make your decision, you should hear from Ron Keine.
Ron Keine sat in a cell alone on New Mexico’s death row for nearly two years in the 1970s. Today, the two men sentenced to die in New Mexico occupy two random cells in the highest-security prison. But back then there was a dedicated row of cells for the handful of men who had been sentenced to die in the state’s gas chamber.
No one ever praises prison, but to hear Keine tell it, death row was a nightmare of no showers, no exercise and nasty guards. As the appeal clock ticked down and the assistant warden paid him a visit to ask what he wanted for his last meal, Keine and his three friends who were all on death row for the same murder made a suicide pact so they could beat the executioner and avoid any more hard time.
What would have been worse for Keine than execution or suicide? “Life,” he says. “Life would be worse.”
Keine’s 22 months on New Mexico's death row and how he got out make the perfect argument for us joining the civilized world and repealing the death penalty.
Keine and his three friends weren’t choir boys. They were all members of the California-based Vagos motorcycle gang who were arrested for a robbery in Tucumcari at about the same time a 26-year-old University of New Mexico student was found shot and mutilated in Albuquerque in 1974.
They were convicted of the murder and sentenced to death for it. Even though they never stopped in Albuquerque. Even though they didn’t do it.
It was a mistake that grew out of human foibles and one that would probably have never been corrected if the real murderer had not found God and confessed.
Governor, the criminal justice system, with all of its rules and safeguards, is really nothing more than the work of human beings. And human beings make mistakes. Sometimes, their mistakes have fatal consequences.
And Governor, I’m sure, as you ponder this, you will consider your faith and the moral and financial arguments that have framed the death penalty debate. Please also think about Keine. He is 61 years old now, an out-of-work plumber who lives in suburban Detroit. He rides a Honda now, not a Harley, tends to his organic vegetable garden and bounces his granddaughter on his knee.
And that’s the reason you need to make that bill law. A mistake here, a mistake there and the absence of a real killer's religious conversion and you – all of us – would have had his blood on our hands. You have the chance to make sure New Mexicans never have to live with that stain on our souls.
Click here to read the orginal reprint of this article.
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