Bush's big lie about Texas executions

By Alan Berlow


Salon Staff
October 6, 2000 11:28PM (UTC)

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Thank you for publishing Alan Berlow's excellent work exposing Gov. George W. Bush's record on the death penalty. Living in Texas, it's impossible to ignore the fact that over 400 prisoners populate death row at any given moment. If one assumes that the Texas judicial process, carried out by fallible human beings, is 99 percent accurate, that means four innocent people live under sentence of death at any given moment. At a 90 percent level of accuracy, at least 40 are wrongly condemned to die. Governor Bush's approach so far seems to be: kill 'em all, let God sort 'em out.

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-- Mary O'Grady

Bush does not appear to have explained why, if imposition of the death penalty is such an awesome responsibility, he has not supported legislation giving Texas jurors the option of imposing a sentence of life without parole. The sole alternative to a death sentence is a sentence of life which can be shortened by parole. Jurors faced with only those choices and arguments about the defendant's continuing threat to innocent people find it far easier to impose the ultimate sanction with only those two choices before them.

-- Thom Seaton

After his first four months in office, George W. Bush reduced the time on his calendar to review each death penalty case from 30 minutes to 15 minutes, according to an interview with his chief of staff conducted by the L.A. Times on August 3, 2000. Occasionally he reserves 30 minutes in order to review several executions scheduled to occur close together.

-- Peter Grove Wenberg

Bush's big lie is that his decisiveness in signing off on so many executions is an act of courage or conviction. It is, in fact, the opposite. His failure, for instance, to stop the execution of Gary Graham was an act of cowardice, motivated no doubt by political expediency. After all, what option did he have after painting himself into a corner with his steadfast insistence on the infallibility of the Texas criminal justice system? It would have taken courage to take a real look at the Graham case and acknowledge what was obvious to any thinking person: that the Graham verdict was neither reasonable on the evidence we know now, nor was it the result of a fair trial.

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Of course, it is difficult to assess whether Dubya's disingenuousness on this issue makes him more odious than his opponent. Although Gore has the intellectual honesty to recognize that the indiscriminate use of the death penalty has probably resulted in the execution of an innocent person, his abominable conclusion is that he still favors it because it is a deterrent.

Ah, "The death penalty as a deterrent." May I recommend that topic as the next installment of the "Big Lie" ...

-- Brian McAllister

What Berlow fails to mention is that every person who has been executed in Texas under George W. Bush has had their case reviewed by judges, lawyers and other legal professionals time and time again. The appeals court is made up of judges who have studied our law and received law degrees, and who study each case intensely for errors that might show the defendant did not receive a fair trial, or that the defendant might be innocent. These judges have also studied our Constitution and have taken an oath to uphold its tenets.

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-- Johnny Cowart

What Berlow doesn't get, and what no one else in the media gets either, is why the Board of Pardons and Paroles was created in the first place. It was created to prevent the abuse of the power of clemency by the office of the governor. I've no doubt Bush could influence the board, but by doing so he would be engaging in the exact kind of behavior the board is supposed to prevent.

I realize that after nearly eight years of Clinton, a leader who actually worries about the spirit of the law as well as its letter can seem kind of strange.

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-- Jim Roberts-Miller

In response to the piece on Governor Bush's executive powers regarding the death penalty in the state of Texas, I would like to point out the overall fallacy in it. To do so, I will merely quote from the state Constitution:

"... The governor shall have the power to grant one reprieve in any capital case for a period not to exceed thirty (30) days; and he shall have power to revoke conditional pardons. With the advice and consent of the Legislature, he may grant reprieves, commutations or punishment and pardons in cases of treason." (Art. 4 Sec. 11(b), Texas Constitution)

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What that means is that, unless the Legislature goes along with any motion to commute, the governor has no authority to do so. Apparently, both branches agreed on the commutation of Henry Lee Lucas' death sentence to life.

-- Ed Hunter

Regarding Alan Berlow's article on George Bush's character, I find it curious that Berlow is quick to claim there have been "numerous demonstrable errors in capital convictions," yet fails to cite one of those numerous examples. Instead, he cites Scripps-Howard and Gallup polls that report 57 and 46 percent of people surveyed believe an innocent person has been executed in Texas -- as if those 57 and 46 percent have any special insight that the courts were denied. He also cites that there have been "questions raised" as to the validity of some of the convictions in Texas that resulted in a murderer's execution. Well, of course questions were raised ... isn't that the defense attorney's job? Apparently those questions weren't enough to convince a judge and jury.

-- Michael Spinney

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