At last night’s Republican Debate, one of the biggest responses from the audience came when it was announced that Rick Perry had executed more death row inmates than any other modern day governor. Rick Perry said he never struggles with the idea that any of the executed might have been innocent.
That’s despite the fact that during Perry’s tenure as governor, DNA evidence has exonerated at least 41 people convicted in Texas, Scott Horton writes in Harper’s. According to the Innocence Project, “more people have been freed through DNA testing in Texas than in any other state in the country, and these exonerations have revealed deep flaws in the state’s criminal justice system.” Some 85 percent of wrongful convictions in Texas, or 35 of the 41 cases, are due to mistaken eyewitness identifications.
Those exonerations include Cornelius Dupree, who had already spent 30 years in prison for rape, robbery, and abduction when DNA evidence proved unequivocally that he was not the man who had committed those crime. Tim Cole, the brother of Texas Sen. Rodney Ellis (D), was posthumously pardoned a decade after he died in prison when DNA evidence proved his innocence.
Leading the country in wrongful convictions probably should give Perry a moment’s pause about the reliability of a criminal justice process he described last night as “thoughtful.” Perry has allowed the execution of juveniles, the mentally disabled, and people who have had such inadequate counsel that their court-appointed lawyers literally slept through their trials.
And he may well have already executed an innocent man. The case of Cameron Todd Willingham, who was executed in 2004 for the arson deaths of his three daughters and maintained his innocence until his dying day, will likely continue to haunt Perry throughout the campaign. Several scientists and forensics experts have questioned the evidence that led to Willingham’s conviction, but Perry “squashed” an official probe into his execution.
Read more at ThinkProgress.org