Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Rick Perry has little role in 'ultimate justice'

John Burnett at NPR has a piece up on Governor Rick Perry and the death penalty titled "In Texas, Perry has little say in 'ultimate justice'," in which your correspondent is briefly quoted. Burnett notes that, "It's often said the Texas governor 'presides' over an execution, but that's inaccurate. He doesn't sign a death warrant or set an execution date, as in some states. In Texas, the only power the governor has is to grant a single 30-day reprieve — and then only if his Pardons Board recommends it."

Indeed this is the first national news story I've seen to give Rick Perry credit for actually reducing the number of death sentences in Texas via life without parole legislation he signed in 2005, reporting that:
eight people were sent to death row last year in Texas, compared with 49 death sentences in 1994.

Criminal justice advocates won't go so far as to call Perry a reformer, and indeed, the governor has done little to exercise clemency in death penalty cases in which there are clear procedural flaws.

But to judge him solely on the 236 executions on his watch is unfair, says Scott Henson, who writes the respected criminal justice blog Grits for Breakfast.

"Capital punishment is a media fetish," he says. "It's not really something that stands out as a remarkable part of Rick Perry's criminal justice record."

Henson has a theory: Perry has so little to do with executions that he strains to take credit for them, knowing how popular capital punishment is with voters.
An ally from the Lege emailed to point the story out to me and declared, "I'm sure you will get some hate mail from the anti-dp crowd," but "I think you're right."

See these related, recent Grits posts:


PAPA said...

The Texas Board of Criminal Justice and Texas Pardon and Parole Board has the say so is right.Someone somewhere should have the power to say STOP when their is one ounce of doubt.All cases need to be resolved by DNA if that is an issue. Money should not be a factor when it comes to DNA testing concerning a person's life. The Cost of one Inmate Wrongful Convicted certainly cost more than a DNA Test.Texas needs to clean up the Prosecutorial Misconduct, the Corruption in the Jails, Detentions Centers, Prisons, Corrupt Judges, Corrupt Lawyers, and the indifference of those on the Criminal Boards of Texas. Thank you.

PAPA said...

Read this story:Surely THE Governor Perry can order a DNA Test???You WILL NOT believe this one.Texas to Condemned Man: Execution First, DNA Later
Posted: 10/4/11 12:43 PM ET
David Protess - Huffington Post
If you were moved by the plight of Troy Davis, wait until you hear what is happening to Hank Skinner.
Skinner, 49, has been on death row in Texas since 1995 for the murders of his girlfriend and her two adult sons in their Panhandle home. He has steadfastly professed his innocence. In recent years, the State's star witness recanted her testimony to my journalism students and others, and several witnesses told the students that the female victim's uncle (now deceased) was the likely killer.
And, there is DNA. Some DNA tests, including on a trail of blood leading from the home, excluded Skinner. Other tests placed Skinner at the scene. (He was a frequent visitor to the home and claims he passed out the night of the crime from a combination of codeine and alcohol. A witness and two experts back his story.)
But most stunning is the physical evidence that has never been tested. The rape kit was not tested. The murder weapons were not tested. Several hairs clutched in the female victim's hand were not tested. A distinctive windbreaker strongly resembling the uncle's found two feet from her body and covered in blood? Not tested.
Since 2000, Skinner has repeatedly asked the local D.A. and the courts to order tests on the remaining evidence, confident they would prove his innocence. Each time, his plea has been denied on the grounds that he did not make the request before his trial. So, on March 26, 2010, Texas planned to execute Skinner while the evidence sat in a storage locker controlled by the current D.A., Lynn Switzer.
Less than an hour before the execution, Skinner's fortune changed -- for the time being. While munching on his last meal, he learned from his lawyer that the U.S. Supreme Court had issued a temporary stay. Prison guards abruptly escorted Skinner from his holding cell outside the execution chamber in Huntsville to his cell on death row in Livingston.
A few weeks later, the Court agreed to hear the case before another attempt could be made on his life. Finally, in a landmark decision earlier this year, the justices ruled 6-3 that Skinner had the right, under federal civil rights law, to sue D.A. Switzer to seek access to the remaining physical evidence for possible DNA testing.
As a federal magistrate in Texas considered the lawsuit that quickly followed, Skinner had another temporary stroke of good fortune. In May, the Texas legislature overwhelmingly passed a bill guaranteeing the right to post-conviction DNA testing, and in June Gov. Rick Perry signed it into law. The bill's sponsor publicly said that it was designed for cases like Skinner's and in memory of another prisoner, Tim Cole, who tragically died behind bars before DNA tests proved his innocence.
Suddenly, Skinner had two chances for justice: the federal lawsuit against the D.A. to gain access to the physical evidence in his case, and a new state law assuring the tests.
What happened next defies imagination. A Texas judge, days before the new statute went into effect and the DNA motion was filed, set another execution date for Skinner: November 9th. That's right. Skinner is scheduled to die in a month -- while two judges continue to contemplate whether he can test the evidence that might clear him.
http://www.huffingt david-protess/ texas-to- condemned- man-ex_b_ 994272.html

http://www.change. org/petitions/ in-the-interest- of-justice- grant-dna- testing-to- hank-skinner

Anonymous said...

did you forget Cameron Todd Willingham ????????

Anonymous said...

DNA has freed a man convicted of murder in Williamson County.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

8:52, I didn't forget Willingham, my memory just isn't so selective that I remember ONLY that.

PAPA, you're making my point. The Governor CANNOT order a DNA test. Skinner's situation is a function of prosecutors and Texas courts. What role has Perry played in the case? Please explain how the example is relevant at all.

Perry did sign into law Texas' DNA testing statute in 2001, and this year he signed a bill expanding access so prosecutors can't oppose testing on spurious grounds, but for some reason he never gets credit for those things.

Anonymous said...

I believe the Governor has the constitutional authority to grant an offender one 30-day reprieve of a scheduled execution without a recommendation from the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles. Anyone disagree?

Gritsforbreakfast said...

5:25, I agree. Do you agree that Texas' governor has a much less significant role in the process than executives in most other states? Do you agree that his signature on a death warrant is not required for an execution, and that he plays no role in setting execution dates? Do you agree that a 30-day reprieve in and of itself doesn't stop an execution if the courts want to move forward with it? And finally, do you agree that Perry has signed legislation into law that improved representation for capital defendants, expanded access to postconviction DNA testing, and signed the LWOP bill that lowered the number of new death sentences in Texas to a fraction of those during the Ann Richards administration?

If we're in agreement on those things, then I don't see why your point mitigates the argument in this post.

Anonymous said...

Stick it in your ear.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Very strong argumentation, 10:58. Nearly as convincing as "I know you are but what am I?"

sunray's wench said...

I would say that Perry is as guilty of not furthering the status of good practice in criminla proceedings, as many inmates are when convicted under the Law of Parties.

Both know that something is going on, but do nothing to prevent it from happening.

The case of Hank Skinner should really be a no-brainer. Test the DNA: if it proves guilt then the prosecutors were right, and if it proves innocence then the prosecutors can say "didn't we do well this time by not killing the wrong man". It's a no-lose situation for them.

Anonymous said...

Perry has little role? Really? Stacking the boards and commissions with the likes of John Bradley. Laughable!

Anonymous said...

I there, i've made a blogpost about the death penalty and i would be really grateful if you just take a quick look at it! Thank you! :)