Texas Governor Provokes Death Penalty Backlash

Governor Rick Perry of Texas appears to meddle with an investigation into a wrongful execution, and bloggers attack

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Texas Governor Rick Perry has recently replaced the fourth and last original member of the state commission investigating a controversial allegation of wrongful execution. The Atlantic Wire previously covered the heated debate surrounding the case of Cameron Todd Willingham, a man convicted and executed for an act of arson that killed his children. Many experts argued that the original investigation was faulty, alleging that no arson had in fact occurred. Now Governor Perry's decision has raised accusations of corruption and revived outrage over the injustices of the legal system.

  • Where Is the Media Frenzy? "As it is," remarks John Cole at Balloon Juice, "this story already reads like a Grisham novel- allegations of murder and arson, the execution of an innocent man, corrupt politicos."
  • Troubled Texan Justice  "What's amazing," writes Publius of the Obsidian Wings blog, "is not so much that Perry replaced the panel members, but that he felt secure enough to be so brazenly corrupt about it.  It's a sad reflection on the state of politics in Texas that a governor could commit such blatant whitewashing two days before the hearing." Publius, saying "[t]he whole thing reminds [him] of a banana republic dictator clumsily covering up his crimes," quotes George Orwell: "'[He] who controls the past, controls the future.' Texas Governor Rick Perry has apparently taken the lesson to heart." He closes with the hope that this will provoke at least some debate among social conservatives, particularly in Texas. The Atlantic's Megan McArdle, agrees with Publius, adding: "No matter how strongly you favor the death penalty, I'm sure that you agree that its purpose is not to execute people; it's to execute justice."
  • Admit the Death Penalty's Flaws  The Atlantic's Ta-Nehisi Coates demanded that death penalty advocates acknowledge the inevitability of error:
The death penalty promotes our sense of order--it offers assurance that those who savagely violate our most cherished morals will be harshly penalized. The question, for me, is what will we tolerate to preserve that assurance? ... I strongly suspect that Rick Perry--at this point--knows that something went badly wrong in Willingham's execution, and yet still believes in the death penalty. What I hope will emerge is death penalty advocates honest enough to admit that no system of state-sponsored execution can be infallible, because people are fallible. I want them to come out and say what's clear--innocent people will be executed. I want them to stop treating us like children, and make the argument.
  • Defending the Death Penalty Over Science  On the Democracy in America blog, the Economist points out that "Mr Perry is not the first politician to show disdain for experts and science--it seems to happen rather often when the science doesn't comport with one's personal views." Thus opens a more startling condemnation: "You might think that the importance of a death penalty case would lead to a more considered approach, but a flagrant disregard for evidence is what has allowed the death penalty to persist all these years." How so? "A substantial amount of research shows it comes at a high cost to states without deterring murder."

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.