In preparation for last night’s Republican presidential debate, I couldn’t help but hope that Rick Perry’s death penalty record would be discussed. My parents said no way, that capital punishment was not a key issue. To my surprise, however, moderator Brian Williams asked the Texas Governor to comment on the 234 executions that he had authorized while in office. Williams asked, “Have you struggled to sleep at night with the idea that any one of those might have been innocent?”
Perry’s response was “No sir, I”ve never struggled with that at all. The state of Texas has a very thoughtful, a very clear process in place of which when someone commits the most heinous of crimes against our citizens, you kill one of our children, you kill a police officer, you”re involved with another crime and you kill one of our citizens, you will face the ultimate justice in the state of Texas and that is you will be executed.”
What struck me was the applause that drew from the crowd upon mention of Perry’s death penalty record. Citizens trust their elected officials and believe that they will carry out justice fairly. Had the crowd been aware of the case of Cameron Todd Willingham, a man who was executed in 2004 and is now believed to be innocent, perhaps the strength of the applause would have been diminished. After all, when new advances in arson science provided strong evidence supporting Willingham’s innocence, Perry refused to issue a stay of execution. On top of that, upon review of the case after the execution by the Texas Forensic Science Commission, Perry, in an unprecedented move, decided to replace three members of the commission when it seemed clear that Willingham would be posthumously exonerated.
I also could not believe that Perry’s remarks on the death penalty came shortly after he made the statement that he “will always air on the side of saving lives.” This statement was in reference to an executive order he issued requiring young Texas women to get HPV vaccinations. If he is so concerned with human life, why did he not issue a stay of execution given the overwhelming evidence supporting Cameron Todd Willingham’s innocence? Perry also remained silent when convicted murderer Hank Skinner was just hours away from execution, despite the availability of untested DNA that could have proven his innocence or guilt. Fortunately, the United States Supreme Court stepped in and issued a stay.
While it seems clear that the main themes of the 2012 election will be job creation and economic revival, Rick Perry’s dishonest and unjust methods for carrying out the criminal “justice” system in Texas is a big enough red flag for me to want him out of the race. Despite his remark that he is always committed to saving lives, his actions suggest the complete opposite. For me, the thought of Rick Perry holding the highest office in our nation is a dangerous one.