February 14, 2016

Three strikes expansion moves on from Senate panel

After an emotional debate, three strikes legislation cleared the Senate Public Affairs Committee on a 7-2 vote Saturday.

State Rep. Paul Pacheco

State Rep. Paul Pacheco

Sponsored by Rep. Paul Pacheco, R-Albuquerque, the bill adds a number of violent crime felonies to the state’s existing “three strikes” law, which mandates life imprisonment for people who are convicted three times of certain felonies. The bill is known as “Lilly’s Law,” named after 4-year-old Lilly Garcia, who was shot and killed last fall during a road rage incident in Albuquerque.

Lilly’s parents, Alan and Veronica Garcia, acted as expert witnesses for the bill.

Pacheco acknowledged that penalties in his bill bill aren’t “perfectly matched” to the person who killed Lilly Garcia, whose previous crimes would not fall under the current or Pacheco’s expanded three strikes law. Pacheco previously told NM Political Report he wasn’t sure if his bill would apply to Toney Torrez, the man who killed Lilly Garcia.

“We named this bill ‘Lilly’s law’ at the request of Lilly’s mother,” Pacheco told the committee.

Both Pacheco and Veronica Garcia denied to the committee that politicians were using her. Veronica Garcia cited a story by NM Political Report that quoted lawmakers questioning why the bill is named after Lily Garcia.

“There has been talk that my family has been used,” she told committee members. “Nobody is pushing me to be here, nobody is telling me to be here, nobody is telling me to say certain things.”

Sen. Jerry Ortiz y Pino, D-Albuquerque, and chairman of the committee, brought up a press conference Veronica Garcia played a role in that accused Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez, D-Belen, of purposely holding up tough on crime bills in Senate. Ortiz y Pino, who voted against the bill, told Veronica Garcia that he remembered thinking she was being used when that press conference was held, noting that the Senate at the time hadn’t yet heard any House bills.

“I hope your experience this year will show you that [the legislative process] takes a while,” Ortiz y Pino said.

Sen. Ted Barela, R-Estancia, mentioned how the bill may not be able to heal families of victims of crimes and will not be able to bring back slain victims.

“But what about the next one?” he asked.

Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto, D-Albuquerque, voted for the bill after amending it to make sure all three violent crimes were committed with the intent to cause death or great bodily harm, resulted in either of those and “were committed in a matter found to be violent.” Ivey-Soto stressed that they were not creating a three strikes law but simply adding to an existing law.

“So I don’t need to decide today if we should have a three strikes bill,” Ivey-Soto said. “I only need to look at what we have today and see if the law is doing what it’s intended.”

Before the vote, state Corrections Department Secretary Gregg Marcantel gave an impassioned speech supporting the bill and arguing that a lack of funding is no reason to oppose it.

“To suggest we have been taking the eye out of the prison system and that the prison system needs work is no reason not to keep our neighbors safe,” Marcantel said.

But Kim Chavez Cook of the state Law Offices of the Public Defender argued that the bill’s language is broad enough to include conviction of three bar fights as leading to life in prison.

Sen. Bill O’Neill, D-Albuquerque, was absent from the Saturday evening vote, though committee chairman Ortiz y Pino said this was because O’Neill had to take care of a family member.

O’Neill, however, was present for and participated in some of the committee debate. He broke down while recalling a previous job where he worked directly with victims and family members of victims of crimes. But he said the bill doesn’t resolve the problem it’s addressing.

“As much as I feel your loss, I cannot support this bill,” he said.

Sen. Mimi Stewart, D-Albuquerque, also voted no on the measure. It now heads to the Senate Judiciary Committee.