Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Don't dare him: 'Is Rick Perry Ready to Execute an Innocent Man?'

In the Nation, Jordan Smith (who usually writes for the Austin Chronicle) has an article on the Larry Swearingen case asking "Is Rick Perry Ready to Execute an Innocent Man?" I think the short answer is, "Of course!" And for heaven's sake, don't dare him! (The Court of Criminal Appeals stayed Swearigen's execution in July, it should be said, so there's a chance the case may never reach the Governor's desk.)

Indeed, if Swearingen is executed on Perry's watch, there's no reason to think it would even hurt him politically. Most people who believe the state has already executed an innocent person still support the death penalty. Perry can say he trusts the prosecutor and jury to get it right, and especially in the GOP primary that's enough to give him a free pass. Politico reported recently that "Multiple former [Kay Bailey] Hutchison advisers recalled asking a focus group about the charge that Perry may have presided over the execution of an innocent man — Cameron Todd Willingham — and got this response from a primary voter: 'It takes balls to execute an innocent man.'”

But even in the general, being associated with aggressive use of the death penalty is a stance that attracts independents and is a factor that may offset other positions ("Social Security is a ponzi scheme") that are considered general election liabilities. This is an example of why Perry has a reputation as "teflon": He carefully chooses the terrain on which he engages his critics, and more often than not they oblige by fighting on his turf. Attacking Perry as overzealous on the death penalty plays into the governor's strengths, associating him with an issue that crosses party lines and helps woo swing voters.

The Obama Administration kills people with predator drones without trials so it's not like there's any real difference between the candidates on the subject of "state murder," in the abolitionist lingo. But from the perspective of political strategy, attacking Perry on the death penalty, even on innocence grounds, is a counterproductive task: Even if you could prove to a certainty an innocent man was killed on Perry's watch, most Americans and certainly most GOP primary voters would still agree with his rhetoric favoring aggressive use of the death penalty.

12 comments:

Prison Doc said...

The Predator drone killings are indeed surprising, especially considering the love for Federal Court proceedings so desired by the contemptible atty gen Holder.

PDiddie, aka Perry Hussein Dorrell said...

The difference between corporations and people is that Rick Perry would NEVER execute a corporation. Innocent or guilty.

David Jennings said...

Sheesh, Scott, have you completely lost your mind? How low are you willing to go?

redneck said...

When are we going to decide that the "government" is making too many decisions for us?

Gritsforbreakfast said...

David, perhaps I have completely lost my mind, but not compared to the focus group member who thinks it takes "balls" to execute an innocent person. IMO if Swearingen were executed, even if he's innocent (as seems pretty certain at this point), Perry would not pay a significant political price in the presidential campaign. Whether that's a low blow or not, I think it's true.

Amanza said...

Hi Scott, any opinion on the next execution, Steven Wood? A supporter of his recently showed me this, and I can't help but wonder how Perry will handle the deal http://stopexecutions.blogspot.com/2011/08/steven-woods-claiming-innocence.html

Don said...

David, what's wrong with what Scott said? Is it an "inconvenient truth"?

Anonymous said...

I recently had the opportunity to read a speech by former Illinois Governor George Ryan regarding the death penalty. My thinking on the subject has gone through the same sort of evolution. Here's a link to it: http://www.worldpolicy.newschool.edu/globalrights/dp/2002-0111-Ryan%20speech%20on%20capital%20punishment.html

Now, Texas' system is as bad or worse than Illinois. So, why has Perry not been able to see what Ryan clearly saw. Do we really think a man of such limited insight should be president?

chuck culhane said...

This is strange. I hear the writer saying that from a politically strategic point criticizing Perry on the death penalty would be a "counter-productive" task. Yes, similarly, England and America looking the other way as Hitler tried to destroy the Jewish race was certainly the way to go to avoid performing a "counter-productive" task. Those darned counter producers, boy,they'll mess up a wet dream.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Chuck, if you think Texas sending 8 men to death row in FY 2010 and Hitler's treatment of Jews are equivalents, you're entitled to your opinion. Perhaps some of your friends may agree with you, but the vast majority of Texans, as you're aware, do not.

For me, a singular focus on the death penalty too often obscures larger issues in the justice system that affect and even kill a lot more people. Tim Cole wasn't executed, but his life ended because he wasn't properly treated for his asthma. He's just as dead, but the number of people focusing on improving prison healthcare is minuscule compared to the number obsessed with the death penalty, while the number of prison deaths (at 30-40 per month) exceeds by far the number executed. Add in suicides and county jail deaths related to poor healthcare and the number dead far outstrips those intentionally executed.

All that to say, there are plenty of people and plenty of blogs out there focused on the death penalty. It's okay for one writer to look past that issue at the entire rest of the criminal justice system. Eight people went to death row in 2010, while about 3/4 of a million were at some point in prison, jail, probation and/or parole. Not everybody has to focus only on those eight cases. Some perspective, at some point, is required.

Besides, as you see in the update, Perry signed the bill (passed by a GOP-controlled legislature) creating a life without parole option that cut down the number of new death sentences to a small fraction of what they were just a few years ago. Why doesn't he get credit for that? I get that Perry engages in rhetorical excess and demagoguery over the death penalty, but as exhibited in Chuck's comment, he's not alone.

Chuck said...

You make an excellent point. Because i was once among the condemned I have little and usually no tolerance for anyone favoring the death penalty, directly or implicitly. My analogy with the holocaust is not demagoguery, but part of the historical record of the last century.Great nations turned their backs on the plight of Jews in Germany until it was too late. A more down-home example might be the guy who's popular at the bowling alley, big scorer, but kicks the shit out of his wife and kids when he drinks too much. Well, being brutal has nothing to do with his bowling so we should just leave that out of the conversation, right? No. Perry frightens me because he's outdone Bush in the number of people executed. And Bush held the modern record, 150 or 151 people.
Tony Amsterdam argued Furman v. Georgia which resulted in knocking out the death penalty nationally in june of 1972. 600 or so women and men were spared, myself included. He later wrote that the death penalty was a baseline; if you can kill someone, regardless of the horror of their crime, then you can do anything.
I'm going to look at that list of Perry's accomplishments and give this more thought, and I hope you will, too. Peace, -chuck culhane

Gritsforbreakfast said...

It's a long time till the election, Chuck, and there'll be plenty to think about, including I assure you more to come on this blog. I'm not telling people to vote for Rick Perry. Dave Jennings thought I'd been too harsh on ol' Rick, in fact, and this post was written as sort of a self-imposed penance, since there are (clearly) many things Perry has done I agreed with. I thought what he and Jay Kimbrough did by eliminating the Tulia-style drug task forces (while you were inside) took a lot of guts, if perhaps not as much as executing an innocent man. (just kidding) I don't mean to be glib about it - or maybe I did in the headline and lede just a little - but capital punishment debates suck up all the oxygen from the room, as I've complained in the past. Thanks for commenting, keep coming back to give your perspective. It's needed.

best,
sh