By Karl Terry: PNT Managing Editor
The constitutionality of the death penalty statutes in New Mexico were argued in a pre-trial hearing Monday in the Roosevelt County District courtroom in the case of a man accused of killing a retired Portales couple in 2005.
Defense attorney Gary Mitchell of Ruidoso has filed four motions on behalf of his client, Stanley Bedford, with each seeking to have the death penalty removed. He presented oral arguments pertaining to three of those motions before 9th Judicial District Judge Steven Quinn.
Mitchell said because the New Mexico Legislature hasn’t acted to correct the death penalty statute following the U.S Supreme Court ruling, the statute itself is unconstitutional.
Prosecutor Michael Cox of the State Attorney General’s Capital Crimes Unit, who is assisting the District Attorney’s Office with the case, said the argument is a red herring.
“You’re citing apples and arguing oranges,” Cox said. “The cases are dealing with different things than the death penalty.”
Cox said in New Mexico the prosecution meets the burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt before the death penalty phase even begins.
“The only way a jury can find Bedford not guilty is without intent to kill,” Cox said. “We can’t even get to the death phase until a jury has made this finding.”
Mitchell also argued that race would also be a factor in the case. His client is black. The victims were white.
“Race does play a part, like it or not, in what jurors do,” Mitchell said.
Mitchell cited studies that showed that black males were more apt to be convicted and more apt to receive the death penalty than other defendants.
“The reason we’re here has nothing to do with the race of the defendant, it has to do with the defendant’s decision to (not) take a plea,” Cox said.
Cox said Bedford and co-defendant Jerry Fuller, who is white, had identical plea deals offered. He said the only difference in sentence offered was because of prior convictions on Bedford’s part.
Fuller accepted a sentence of 127 years in prison in October of last year and began the sentence in January.
Quinn told the attorneys he hoped to be able to review paperwork submitted on the motions and make a ruling by the end of the week.
Attorneys also learned Monday that an extremely low return on juror summons might only result in a pool of 140. Both sides had agreed earlier that at least 200 would be needed. The judge was going to request further notices be sent out.
The trial is set to begin May 21 in Albuquerque.