Texas governor Rick Perry has executed 234 people as governor of Texas. But despite the governor's faith in the Texas judicial system, serious mistakes have been made and many innocent people have served time in prison because of them.
In last night’s GOP presidential debate, moderator Brian Williams pointed out the 234 death toll (which drew applause from the audience) before asking if Perry has ever “struggled to sleep at night with the idea that any one of those might have been innocent?”
“No, sir I’ve never struggled with that at all,” he answered before describing the judicial process in Texas.
He added: “In the state of Texas, if you come into our state and 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."
The answer did not exactly answer the question. Perry obviously believes that the judicial process in Texas is trustworthy, but commentators point out that even the most trustworthy judicial process in the world is prone to mistakes.
He then went on to reiterate his belief in capital punishment by basically saying that if you kill somebody, you will be executed.
However, what about Williams’ question? Out of 234 people, there is a strong statistical possibility that one of those people were unjustly executed under Perry’s watch.
According to the Innocence Project, since 1992, Texas has released at least 43 people from prison after they were wrongly convicted of a crime. Out of those 43 wrongful convictions, five were for murder. All five were found to be wrongly convicted during Perry’s tenure as governor. They had spent a combination of 77 years behind bars before being pardoned.
Entre Nax Karage spent 6.5 years in prison before evidence proved his innocence.
Christopher Ochoa served 11.5 years.
Calvin Washington served 13 years.
Michael Blair served 13.5 years, but was not released. He confessed to other murders while in prison.
James Lee Woodard served 27 years. When he was pardoned, Gov. Perry said, "James Lee Woodard was wrongfully convicted for a crime he did not commit. My action today cannot give back the time he spent in prison, but it does end this miscarriage of justice."
And last year, Anthony Graves was released after spending 18 years on death row for the murder of six people without any physical evidence, motive, and an eyewitness who re-canted her testimony against him.
“The case of Anthony Graves is one more example of the flawed Texas criminal justice system,” deathpenaltyinfo.com said on its website. “Faulty eyewitness identification techniques, lack of recorded interrogation by police officers, junk science, and the political pressure to “catch the killer”, combined with substandard indigent defense, all led to his conviction despite the lack of any evidence linking him to the crime.”
In the state of Texas, there have been 12 people exonerated from death row since 1973.
The numbers of wrongful convictions are certainly high and stories of innocent people spending several years of their lives in prison for crimes they did not commit are certainly frightening.
However, is it a testament to Perry’s governing skills that so many innocent people have been released under his watch? Indeed, the Innocence Project’s Paul Cates told The Christian Post that Texas has excellent “evidence retention policies,” which makes it easier for defense attorneys to revisit cases of possible wrongful convictions to find the truth.
However, even with new DNA evidence technology and good evidence retention policies, mistakes can be made in a state that executes more people than any other, in the country that executes more people than any other country in the world. And the mistake that many people believe is a glaring one Perry made is: Cameron Todd Willingham.
Willingham was convicted of setting his home on fire with his three children inside. His children died in that fire and Willingham was convicted of one of the most heinous acts an individual can commit. Forensic evidence at the time found him guilty and Willingham was sent to death row.
While awaiting execution, Willingham’s case was reviewed by forensic experts who called the previous investigation was conducted with “junk science.”
The strength of Willingham’s evidence was compelling, and scientists asked Perry to allow a review of the case before the execution. Perry denied it and Willingham was killed by a lethal injection.
Since Willingham’s execution, the case has continued to haunt Perry. A special commission to review forensic cases hired a nationally renowned fire scientist to review the Willingham case. However, Perry “squashed it,” Sam Basset, the former chairman of the Texas Forensic Science Commission, told CNN.
Rick Perry has said that he does not worry about the possibility of executing an innocent person because he has faith in the Texas judicial system. However, the Texas judicial system has made mistakes – and many people have spent many years paying for those mistakes.
“No, sir I’ve never struggled with that at all,” Perry said.