More on Governor Perry and the Death Penalty

Perry Event 2/1/2010

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When Rick Perry had been governor for three years, the Texas Board of Pardons and Parole had yet to recommend to him that a single death row inmate be spared.

That May, the board’s chairwoman allowed the lawyer for Kelsey Patterson to present to her a plea that the inmate’s execution be blocked because of his severe mental illness.

Mr. Patterson had murdered two people for no clear reason and fled to a yard, where he stripped to his brown socks and waited until police arrived.

Juries previously found Mr. Patterson, who had paranoid schizophrenia, incompetent to stand trial. For the double murder, he was tried and testified in proceedings so tumultuous he was ejected from the room and gagged with duct tape.

When the parole board voted five-to-one to commute Mr. Patterson’s sentence to life in prison, Mr. Perry’s legal counselor cautioned Mr. Patterson’s lawyer, “Honey, don’t get your hopes up.”

The next day, Mr. Perry rejected the recommendation. Mr. Patterson was executed, and his incoherent last statement ended with the bell-clear “Give me my life back.”

In campaigning for the Republican Presidential nomination, Mr. Perry has defended the executions on his watch: 236 over eleven years.

Explaining why he upheld the execution of Kelsey Patterson, Mr. Perry said, “Texas has no life without parole sentencing option.” He said, “No one can guarantee this defendant would not be freed to commit other crimes were his sentence commuted.” Mr. Patterson would have become eligible for parole at 74.

In response, Charles Aycock, a former Texas State Bar president who served on the parole board, said, “Baloney. We would have never released anybody like that to the street.”

Mr. Perry’s championing of the death penalty is crystallized by his veto of a bill banning the execution of the mentally retarded and refusal to stay the execution of Cameron Todd Willingham after an arson expert cast doubt on his guilt in his daughters’ deaths in a fire.

Mr. Perry expresses certainty that the system works well enough to prevent the execution of any innocent people. Asked by Brian Williams at a Republican debate last month whether he struggles to sleep because he has presided over more executions than any other governor in modern history, Mr. Perry said, “No, sir.” He continued, “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.”

In death penalty cases, Texas governors have the right to issue a one-time, thirty-day reprieve from execution. They were stripped of the authority to grant clemency seventy-five years ago when Texas voters created an independent pardons board. Still, the governor appoints the board and can influence it.

The board has reviewed more than 200 death penalty cases on Mr. Perry’s watch but chose commute only a few sentences. (Two Supreme Court decisions, banning the execution of the mentally retarded and minors, required several dozen commutations.)

Mr. Perry accepted the board’s recommendation to commute a death sentence only once, for a man who did not commit murder.

Via NYT.

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Filed under Crime and Punishment, Politics

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