Some Thoughts on Rick Perry and Death Row in Texas

I didn’t watch the Republican candidate debate the other night, but I was bombarded the following morning with articles about Rick Perry and his comments regarding the death penalty in Texas. There was quite an outcry from people offended and outraged by Perry’s remarks and I’ve rounded up a few snippets from various articles here.

During the debate, a moderator prefaced a question by saying: “Your state has executed 234 death row inmates, more than any other governor in modern times.” And this drew a round of hearty applause from the audience.

The moderator continued, asking: “Have you struggled to sleep at night with the idea that any one of those might have been innocent?” The issue he was alluding to but for some reason didn’t mention outright was the case of Todd Willingham, a father of three who was accused of setting a fire in his home that killed all three children. Following Willingham’s trial and sentencing, a witness who said Willingham had confessed recanted and only weeks before his scheduled execution date, arson experts discovered evidence that Willingham had not set the fire. There is a mountain of evidence suggesting that things were not all as they seemed in the case, but the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles refused Willingham’s requests for clemency, Perry denied a stay of execution even after being presented with evidence of Willingham’s possible innocence, and he was executed in 2004.

But as an article on Mother Jones says,

It’s what happens next that calls Perry’s conduct into question. In 2009, as the Texas Forensic Science Commission was investigating the Willingham case, Perry, in the midst of a primary battle with former Texas Senator Kay Bailey Hutchinson, replaced the chair of the commission with a political ally…”

And when it seemed the Commission was on the verge of posthumously exonerating Willingham, the governor replaced two more members. This man, who now wants to hold the highest office in America, ordered an execution of a possibly innocent man, and then tried to make sure no one would ever hear about it.

And it’s not just Willingham that should give pause. Here’s a few more sobering facts from the Lone Star state:

  • According to an article published on The Nation’s site, there are at least three other cases currently before the State that raise serious questions about the guilt of the defendants and Texas’ refusal to hear new evidence that may prove their innocence.
  • Since 2001, forty-one prisoners in Texas have been exonerated based on new DNA evidence.
  • Texas executes the most people in the nation, with 473 total executions since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976.

I think the best breakdown of what’s wrong with all of these things I’ve discussed came from Adam Serwer’s article on Mother Jones, so I’ll let him sum it up:

The issue here is not just that sometimes the system makes mistakes, mistakes which the death penalty makes irreversible. It’s that faced with the possibility that the system executed an innocent man, Rick Perry went out of his way to stifle the investigation because it might have made him look bad. It’s hard to think of a worse form of government abuse than wrongly depriving someone of life. Yet faced with the possibility that Texas had done just that, small government conservative Rick Perry did his best to ensure no one would ever know for sure.

You don’t have to oppose the death penalty to find it alarming when politicians display a reckless disregard for making sure it’s properly applied.

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One thought on “Some Thoughts on Rick Perry and Death Row in Texas

  1. Thanks for an excellent summary. We’ll look forward to reading more about your experiences and research on FL Death Row. It was horrifying to hear this resounding applause. However, on behalf of innocent Paul W. Scott who thrives on FL Death Row now 31 years, (even though the real killer Rick Kondian fully confessed and was paroled in 1993) we are grateful when this dire issue is in the spotlight and injustice is exposed.

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