Pennsylvania, with the nation's fourth-largest death row, has as much reason - if not more - to follow the moral and practical example set last week by New Mexico in repealing its death penalty.

As Gov. Corzine did in 2007, Bill Richardson of New Mexico on Wednesday became the second governor to decide he would no longer "tinker with the machinery of death" - as the late Supreme Court Justice Harry A. Blackmun eloquently described the flawed U.S. system of capital punishment.

There is no rush among the 35 remaining death-penalty states to join New Jersey and New Mexico, the only two to ban executions since they were reinstated in 1976. But it's a hopeful sign that at least seven other states are looking at a ban, including Maryland.

Richardson acted out of a sense of justice, but also a renewed awareness amid a tough economy of the enormous and wasteful financial burden of running a death row.

The fear that an innocent person might be executed was driven home for New Mexico by the exoneration of four death row inmates. Richardson called the risk of executing an innocent person "anathema to our very sensibilities as human beings."

Even though Gov. Rendell remains a death penalty proponent, Pennsylvania has seen two men sent to its death row and later exonerated - proof that the risk of a wrongful execution exists here.

While two-thirds of Americans still support capital punishment, their support weakens when doubts are raised that the death penalty can be administered fairly and with certainty. Neither criterion can be assured, so the preferred alternative in capital cases should be a sentence of life without parole.

Studies show that poor and minority defendants are more likely to face the death penalty, and the quality of their legal defense is often spotty or inadequate in too many states. That's unjust and, worse, risks the horror of a wrongful execution.

In time, the growing awareness of those injustices may lead more states to repeal their death penalty - or at least enact a moratorium, as recommended in June by a diverse group of Pennsylvania House members.

If those efforts get a boost from the nation's struggling economy, so much the better. In fact, more elected officials are focusing on the enormous expense of years of capital-case appeals and incarceration.

Not only are death penalty cases hugely expensive to bring to trial, but years of appeals can run up legal bills in the millions. A commission in New Jersey determined that the tab for each death sentence was an estimated $4.2 million. New Mexico officials predict their repeal will save "millions of dollars."

In the spirit that no crisis should be wasted, death penalty foes need to keep reminding taxpayers that it's cheaper to jail killers for life than send them to death row. That means scrapping Pennsylvania's death penalty not only would be the right thing to do, but also the smart-money move.