The Republican presidential candidate hopeful, Rick Perry, has outstripped his gubernatorial predecessor, George W. Bush, in the number of executions he has overseen.
George Bush, the so-called “Texecutioner”, who has been described as a “modern-day Pontius Pilate”, oversaw the execution of 152 convicts over five years.
Perry, the current Governor of Texas, has overseen 234 executions, although he has held the office for 11 years, meaning he is overseeing a lower rate of execution.
If a Governor of Texas is to commute a death sentence, he or she must first be referred the commutation by a Board of Pardons and Paroles, and if the Board denies commutation, the Governor cannot act on this. However, the Governor appoints the Board of Pardons and Paroles him or herself. Perry has only commuted one sentence as Governor.
In 2002, Perry vetoed a bill that would have prevented the death penalty from being handing to mentally retarded inmates.
1,224 inmates have been executed in Texas since 1819 – more than any other state – and it is also the state with the second highest rate of execution, overtaken only by Oklahoma.
In “Fed Up!: Our Fight to Save America from Washington”, Perry says “If you don’t support the death penalty…don’t come to Texas.”
He also courted controversy when he refused to prevent the execution of Humberto Leal Garcia, a Mexican national who was not informed that he was entitled to access legal advice from the Mexican consulate, a move that some feared could provoke a diplomatic incident. The White House, and Obama himself, appealed to Perry to reprieve Garcia, noting that failure to do so could “have serious repercussions for United States foreign relations, law-enforcement and other co-operation with Mexico, and the ability of American citizens travelling abroad to have the benefits of consular assistance in the event of detention.”
Perry has also been criticised for his decision to ignore forensic evidence relating to the case of Cameron Todd Willingham, a man convicted of killing his children by arson in 1994, and executed ten years later. An investigation into the case was launched in 2009, with one representative of the Texas Forensic Science Commission concluding that “a finding of arson could not be sustained”.
The Chicago Tribune concluded that:
Over the past five years, the Willingham case has been reviewed by nine of the nation’s top fire scientists – first for the Tribune, then for the Innocence Project, and now for the commission. All concluded that the original investigators relied on outdated theories and folklore to justify the determination of arson. The only other evidence of significance against Willingham was twice-recanted testimony by another inmate who testified that Willingham had confessed to him. Jailhouse snitches are viewed with scepticism in the justice system, so much so that some jurisdictions have restrictions against their use.
Perry dismissed the chair of the Texas Forensic Science Commission, along with two other board members, two days before it was due to review the case. The new chair cancelled the meeting.
Perry’s rival Michele Bachmann says she is “100 per cent pro-life” and “believe[s] in the dignity of life from conception until natural death”, although she has not made explicit comments on the death penalty.