Death penalty process lengthy

By Kevin Wilson: CNJ staff writer

If Stanley Bedford receives the death penalty, he’ll be in exclusive company — New Mexico’s death row — and odds are he’d be there for a while.

Bedford was convicted Thursday of two counts each of murder and kidnapping and other charges in connection with the March 3, 2005, deaths of Odis and Doris Newman of Portales.

The jury reconvenes Thursday for the penalty phase, and will choose either to make Bedford New Mexico’s third death row inmate, or let his judge-imposed sentence of 120 years stand.

If Bedford receives the death penalty, history points to him being on death row for quite a while.

Terry Clark, the only person executed in the last 45 years in New Mexico, went through 14 years of appeals before his 2001 death by injection. The two inmates currently on death row have been waiting a combined 17 years.

Compare that to Texas, where there were 24 executions in 2006, and 394 over the last 23 years.

“It’s not just the law, it’s the people here,” said Gary Mitchell, who is defending Bedford and has worked numerous other death penalty cases. “We have a more diverse population and diverse cultures. We’re more of an enchanted state in that regard. The death penalty wouldn’t exist in this state if it wasn’t for Texas influence.”

District Attorney Matt Chandler said the low numbers and long appeals processes are a testament to the state’s safeguards to make sure everything’s done right.

“The death penalty is the most severe form of punishment and should only be used in the most severe cases,” Chandler said. “Terry Clark was sentenced to death in May of 1987 and he was put to death in November of 2001. Part of that process is allowing appellate courts to review the case from start to finish to make sure every rule was followed properly and that the defendant received a fair trial.”

Mitchell contends Bedford is innocent, and said after the verdict he hoped the Supreme Court would intervene on the conviction — and, if necessary, on the death penalty.

This week, he seemed pessimistic on those chances.

“There was a time when you could count on that, but not anymore,” Mitchell said. “Most politicians, most judges don’t have the courage to fight this kind of stuff. The fear is you won’t have a job anymore. It’s a real problem.”

Mitchell described prison as an 8-by-10-foot concrete-and-steel cell, where you’re let out for just enough sunlight to prevent scurvy and fed food most Americans wouldn’t feed their dogs.

“It’s not a pleasant place, not at all,” Mitchell said. “Punishment is severe (without the death penalty). If we’re ever to be a civilized people, we have to end this thing.”

Chandler has consistently said over the last two years the circumstances of the crime meet the state’s parameters for the death sentence, and he has taken an oath to uphold New Mexico law even if it means years of appeals.

“The decision was made after very careful review of the evidence and consultation with the victims’ families,” Chandler said. “We understood from the beginning the road would be long and could possibly be drawn out over the next 10 years.”

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An Albuquerque jury will decide whether Stanley Bedford will become New Mexico’s third death row inmate. Here are the other two:

• Timothy Allen: Convicted in 1995 for the attempted rape, kidnapping and murder of 17-year-old Sandra Phillips of Flora Vista in 1994. Three days after she had moved from Phoenix to live with her mother, Phillips was walking around town looking for a job. Allen gave her a ride and took her into the hills north of Flora Vista. After attempting to rape Phillips, he tied a rope around her neck until she lost consciousness and later died.

• Robert Ray Fry: Convicted in 2002 for the murder and rape of 36-year-old Betty Lee of Shiprock in 2000. Fry was convicted of killing the mother of five by stabbing and bludgeoning her with a sledgehammer.

Fry has also been convicted of three other murders: Donald Tsosie in 1998, and Matthew Trecker and Joseph Fleming in 1996.