NM Supreme Court vacates death sentences for final two on death row
June 28, 2019 05:47 PM
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. - The State Supreme Court has vacated the death sentences for the final two people on death row in New Mexico.
Timothy Allen and Robert Fry were the only inmates awaiting execution. On Friday, justices concluded Fry and Allen's sentences were "unlawfully disproportionate" in comparison to penalties imposed in similar murder cases.
The decision was divided with three justices sending the case back to district court in San Juan County to impose life sentences instead.
Retired Justices Edward L. Chavez and Charles W. Daniels joined in the majority decision. Chief Justice Judith K. Nakamura dissented, as did Retired Justice Petra Jimenez Maes.
The death penalty was repealed in New Mexico a decade ago but the sentences for Allen and Fry remained intact because they were convicted and sentenced before the state abolished capital punishment.
“In comparing Petitioner’s cases to other equally horrendous cases in which defendants were not sentenced to death, we find no meaningful distinction which justifies imposing the death sentence upon Fry and Allen. The absence of such a distinction renders the ultimate penalty of death contrary to the people’s mandate that the sentence be proportionate to the penalties imposed in similar cases,” the Court said in a majority opinion written by Justice Barbara J. Vigil.
Allen, who is soon to be 56, was convicted for the kidnapping, attempted rape and murder of 17-year-old Sandra Phillips in 1994.
Fry was sentenced to death for the kidnapping, attempted rape and brutal murder of Betty Lee in 2000. He was also sentenced to life in prison for three other murders in San Juan County.
Under a life sentence, Allen and Fry will be eligible for parole after serving 30 years. If paroled, they would immediately begin serving additional sentences for other convictions.
Allen faces an additional 25 years. Fry will never be released from prison as he faces 120 years for his first-degree murder convictions.
“A killer’s crimes reflect who he is. What we do to the killer reflects who we are,” wrote Justice Daniels. “Can we really look anyone in the eye and say that executing these two defendants would be proportionate when compared to non-deadly punishment our state has overwhelmingly meted out in virtually all equally serious first-degree murder cases, and specifically in similar cases, since enactment of the Capital Felony Sentencing Act in 1979? I, for one, cannot honestly do so.”
The only person to be executed in New Mexico in more than 50 years has been Terry Clark in 2001. The execution occurred after he dropped all appeals of his death sentence.
Updated: June 28, 2019 05:47 PM
Created: June 28, 2019 11:40 AM
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