To New Mexico Attorney General Gary King, a prison guard’s slaying cried out for the death penalty: Inmates stabbed him two dozen times, says the Chicago Tribune. When the defense ran out of money, the state Supreme Court said King could not seek a death sentence until the lawyers were paid — $200,000 for each of three defendants. When state legislators refused to allocate more money, prosecutors stopped pursuing the death penalty. Debate over the death penalty has undergone shifts: In the last decade, the discussion focused on accuracy and fairness, with exonerations of death row inmates sparking calls for reform and abolition. Now, with the nation’s economy slumping, the issue is cost. Opponents in several states have proposed to abolish the death penalty, many of them citing its cost. New Mexico’s legislature voted Friday to do so.
New Jersey cited cost as one factor when it abolished the death penalty in 2007, and a commission that studied the death penalty in Maryland recently cited cost as well. In Georgia, the public defender system is underfunded and in crisis after the death penalty trial of Brian Nichols for killing a judge and three others during his 2005 escape from a courthouse. The case cost more than $2 million. Nichols got a life sentence. California legislators are wrestling with the cost of maintaining the nation’s largest death row; the state has executed only 13 inmates since 1976. Officials are also debating construction of a new $395-million death row prison that many lawmakers say the state cannot afford. In Louisiana, the Orleans Parish district attorney’s office has considered filing for bankruptcy protection after it was ordered to pay $15 million to John Thompson. He sued prosecutors after he was acquitted of murder and freed from death row; a jury found that prosecutors had engaged in misconduct.