During a recent Republican presidential candidates forum, moderator Brian Williams asked Texas Gov. Rick Perry:
“Governor Perry, a question about Texas. Your state has executed 234 death row inmates, more than any other governor in modern times. Have you (APPLAUSE) struggled to sleep at night with the idea that any of those might have been innocent?”
Perry answered, “No, sir,” and pointed out that death row convicts are entitled to extensive appeals, and crisply declared: “In the state of Texas, you come into our state and you kill one of our children, you kill one of our police officers, you’re involved in another crime and you kill one of our citizens and you will face the ultimate justice.”
This candidate for our nation’s highest office replied, “No” – meaning he has not been even concerned about the horror of executing the innocent.
And he tried justifying this by noting that death row convicts are entitled to extensive appeals.
Williams then asked Perry to explain the audience’s reaction to Williams’ question: “What do you make of that dynamic that just happened here, the mention of execution of 234 people drew applause?”
Gov. Perry: “I think Americans understand justice. I think Americans are clearly in the majority of – of cases supportive of capital punishment. When you’ve committed heinous crimes against our citizens – and it’s a state-by-state issue, but in the state of Texas, our citizens have made that decision, and they made it clear, and they don’t want you to commit those crimes against our citizens. And if you do, you will face the ultimate justice.”
On May 29 of this year, George Washington University law professor Jeffrey Rosen, writing in the New York Times, noted the following:
“Judge Learned Hand called ‘the ghost of the innocent man convicted’ an ‘unreal dream.’ But in ‘Convicting the Innocent,’ Brandon L. Garrett shows that it can be a ‘nightmarish reality.’ Since the late 1980s, DNA testing has exonerated more than 250 wrongly convicted people, who spent an average of 13 years in prison for crimes they didn’t commit. (There is every reason to think that more people have been wrongly convicted since then, but only these 250 have been definitively exonerated by post-conviction DNA tests.) Seventeen of the 250 were sentenced to die, and 80 to spend the rest of their lives in prison. By poring over trial transcripts and interviewing lawyers, prosecutors and court reporters, Garrett, a law professor at the University of Virginia School of Law, seeks to explore who these 250 innocent people are, and why they were wrongly convicted. His alarming conclusion: the wrongful convictions were not idiosyncratic but resulted from a series of flawed practices that the courts rely on every day, namely, false and coerced confessions, questionable eyewitness procedures, invalid forensic testimony and corrupt statements by jailhouse informers. Garrett’s book is a gripping contribution to the literature of injustice, along with a galvanizing call for reform.
“Almost 90 percent of the 250 innocent people later exonerated were falsely convicted of rape, or rape and murder, and 40 of them actually confessed to crimes they didn’t commit, most adding specific details that only the real culprit could have known.”
Law professor Rosen also notes:
“It turns out to be surprisingly hard to prove your innocence; most people don’t remember where they were on a particular day months ago, and can present only weak alibis. Especially memorable are the dignity and self-control with which those convicted asserted their innocence and recanted their false confessions.
“Even when facing the death penalty at their sentencing hearings, these innocent people often maintained a remarkable degree of poise. After the verdicts were read, some of them understandably lashed out in anger and then sought to compose themselves. In the Central Park jogger case, one of the convicted was taken out of the courtroom after he exclaimed, ‘No. No. No. Can’t take this. O, Lord. Jesus. No. … It’s wrong. It’s wrong. No. No.’”
Has Texas Gov. Perry ever read professor Garrett’s scientific analysis of the horror of executing the innocent? If he has not – as it appears – he should surely do so.
And how can he be at all certain that none of those 234 executed under his governorship was innocent?