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September 8, 2011

"Perry draws applause in defending death penalty, hasn’t struggled over questions of innocence"

The title of this post is the headline of this AP report on the one notable sentencing and punishment issue that came up during Wednesday night's GOP debate.  As I predicted in this post yesterday morning, the media folks could not resist asking Texas Governor Rick Perry about his state's execution record, and here is how the telling sequence unfolded:

The audience first applauded when NBC News anchor Brian Williams cited the number of executions in Texas.  Perry says he believes that such a response reflects how much Americans support capital punishment for particularly heinous crimes....

Perry [assertively] defend[ed] the death penalty in Texas and [said] he’s never struggled with whether any of the inmates executed during his time as governor might have been innocent.  When Perry defended capital punishment, he drew strong applause from the scores of people in the audience at the Republican debate Wednesday night at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library.

As of today, 234 people have been executed in the 10-plus years that Perry has served as governor of Texas.  That’s the highest number of any American governor.

I am not at all surprised, though I am definitely disappointed, that Brian Williams asked a death penalty question that was both weak and readily enabled Gov. Perry to provide a standard-issue pro-death penalty response.  I am also not surprised that, unlike former Texas Gov George W. Bush who talking in 2000 about favoring the death penalty because he thought it saved lives, current Texas Gov Perry instead stressed retributive justice.  And though Brian Williams seemed surprised that his mention of the number of executions in Texas under Perry's watch drew applause, anyone with a sophisticated understanding of the politics of this issue should not have been.

It will now be interesting to see if anyone else in the "lamestream" media tries to step-up their game on this issue.  Much harder questions for Gov Perry on this issue would be easy to imagine: e.g.,

  • "Why do you think a state like Massachusetts has a much lower murder rate than Texas even though it lacks the death penalty while Texas executes dozens of persons each year?";
  • "Do you think the federal government should be actively involved in seeking death sentences for the most heinous murders committed in states without capital punishment?";
  • "Do you agree with George W. Bush's statement in his 2005 State of the Union Address that 'we must make doubly sure no person is held to account for a crime he or she did not commit' and thus we should have the federal government involved in "fund[ing] special training for defense counsel in capital cases, because people on trial for their lives must have competent lawyers by their side"? 

Asking important and challenging question about the death penalty (not only to Gov Perry, but also to all the other GOP candidates) is not that difficult.  But, there is probably no sound reason to expect or hope that the traditional media will soon do any better on this front.

Some recent related posts:  

September 8, 2011 at 10:34 AM | Permalink

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Comments

I really like question #2 :)

Posted by: Michael J.Z. Mannheimer | Sep 8, 2011 11:39:40 AM

This is a prime example of weakening a strong point by throwing in a weak one. Williams wanted to put Perry on the spot with the innocence question, but he couldn't resist throwing in the 234 number. That "record" number is only considered a negative out on the left wing where Williams lives. For those who support capital punishment, the fact that Texas actually enforces its death sentences (and it does *not* have a disproportionate number of such sentences, BTW), is a positive.

Williams' evident assumption that the audience would see that number as a negative and surprise when they did not just demonstrates how out of touch he is.

Posted by: Kent Scheidegger | Sep 8, 2011 11:54:43 AM

For some good long time now, I have been saying that the Left lives so much in its own bubble that it can no longer hear itself. Williams' questioning was a perfect example.

P.S. I wonder whether we might see a question like this, "Mr. Candidate X, are you saying that our DP system is so flawed that we can never, ever execute anyone, no matter how overwhelming the evidence of guilt and no matter how sick and evil the crime? Never, ever?"

P.P.S. I won't, however, hold my breath waiting for such a question.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Sep 8, 2011 12:48:24 PM

"Why do you think a state like Massachusetts has a much lower murder rate than Texas even though it lacks the death penalty while Texas executes dozens of persons each year?"

If and when Perry becomes the candidate and debates the ex-Senator from no-DP Illinois -- and whose support for the DP is tepid at best -- will we hear this question: "Why do you think a state like Texas has a lower murder rate than Illinois, when Illinois lacks the death penalty and Texas executes dozens of persons each year?"

If we want to play the my-state-is-better-than-your-state game, sure, I'll play (even though it's a stupid game for ignoring significant demographic variations, such as those between Texas and Massachusetts).

We can start with this: Massachusetts has a higher murder rate than any of the following DP states: Idaho, Nebraska, New Hampshire, Oregon, Utah and Wyoming.

What's that? Maybe we should consider demographic (and cultural and histoical) differences after all? Lan' sakes alive!

Posted by: Bill Otis | Sep 8, 2011 1:09:17 PM

Of course we should consider demographic, cultural and historical differences. That can be controlled for, however, by comparing crime statistics in cities of comparable size and affluence (2009 statistics). The big Texas metros, Dallas and Houston, have lower homicide rates than non-DP Chicago but higher than non-DP Boston or NYC. On the other hand, non-DP Chicago's homicide rate is lower than DP Philadelphia's.

The top two cities over 250,000, at least in 2009, were New Orleans and Baltimore, both in DP states, although Maryland is only a DP state by courtesy.

For what it's worth, BTW, I'm a DP supporter, albeit one with considerable misgivings about how the system is currently administered.

Posted by: Jonathan Edelstein | Sep 8, 2011 1:34:43 PM

Homicides in Italy and United States: A Draft Comparison.

In 2007 Italy counted 593 homicides. We are very concerned about them, but it is normal, in our 60 millions persons country, to have 500 - 600 homicides per year.
In Los Angeles, au contraire, they are very happy because they have only 400 homicides and they are pleased for it even if they have 1/20 of the Italian population. In Baltimore (600.000 people) they count 300 homicide per year and in New Orleans (300.000) 200 per year. The same in Houston, the capital of the American capital punishment where, with 1/30 of the Italian population, they have 3-400 homicides per year.
In America they are happy because now they have only 16.000 – 17.000 homicides per year, but if they were Italians they could count 3.000 homicides per year.
I am sure this happens for the reason that Italy is (from 1877) a death penalty free country: because, according to Justice Brandeis, the legal homicide by the state is a bad teaching.:
“ Our Government is the potent, the omnipresent teacher.
For good or for ill, it teaches the whole people by its example.”
Justice Brandeis dissenting, Olmstead v United States, 1928

Posted by: Dott. claudio giusti, italia | Sep 8, 2011 1:56:36 PM

"The top two cities over 250,000, at least in 2009, were New Orleans and Baltimore, both in DP states, although Maryland is only a DP state by courtesy."

Rankings bounce around from year to year, but Detroit and Washington, neither of which has the death penalty, are regularly in the top tier. Not only is Maryland a state that has effectively no death penalty, but even within the state Baltimore City (not to be confused with Baltimore County) is a jurisdiction where the locals have largely nullified the state law by electing prosecutors who very rarely seek the penalty.

The simplistic comparisons don't tell us much. The more sophisticated regression analyses are hotly debated among experts.

Oh, and those who want to make international comparisons, compare Japan with Europe instead of the United States with Europe and you get the opposite result. So what do international comparisons tell us? That culture trumps sentencing policy.

Posted by: Kent Scheidegger | Sep 8, 2011 2:42:20 PM

Doug, why is the comparison of Texas to Massachusetts "much harder"? Is anyone seriously suggesting that the death penalty increases the murder rate? Is anyone seriously suggesting that the death penalty outweighs the demographic differences between Massachusetts and Texas?

The second question isn't very hard either. Federal law should be uniformly enforced.

The third question is a good one.

Posted by: federalist | Sep 8, 2011 3:13:25 PM

federalist --

As to the third question: The federal government is drowning in debt, and does not need to undertake yet another program not required of it by the Constitution. To the contrary, we need to cut back. We have been consuming vastly more than we've been paying for, and it has to stop.

The problem of defective counsel in state trials is for the states to solve. It isn't that hard. The judge in a DP case should appoint a lawyer from a flush law firm he knows is first-rate. Lawyers are officers of the court and should take such appointments as a courtesy to the court, if they can't do it for any other reason such as good citizenship or to give something back in light of their high socio-economic status. And yes, they should be reasonably compensated.

It's simply a canard that killers get executed because they had lousy lawyers. They get executed because they're killers and the government proved it. It is a conceit of the legal profession that if you put on a razzle-dazzle performance, your client will walk. The quality of lawyering doesn't make the evidence disappear.

Finally, the NACDL might bestir itself to do something useful by providing much more training in capital cases. That way, instead of bellyaching about the problem, they might do something to help SOLVE the problem.

I know the money devoted to such training might have to come from the flush catering fund for their numerous conventions and conclaves held to give awards to one another, but, hey, sacrifice for the greater good is the order of the day!

Posted by: Bill Otis | Sep 8, 2011 7:02:54 PM

Rather than wasting time and effort on another death penalty topic, which tends to produce far more heat than light on this blog, what about asking the candidates "Considering New Hampshire has the lowest murder rate in the country, what is it that New Hampshire does better than your state and what New Hampshire policies should your state adopt to bring its homicide rate down to the level of New Hampshire?" This has the advantage of allowing the candidates to pander to New Hampshire primary votors.

I believe New Hampshire has the lowest murder rate in the country, although I could be wrong. If New Hampshire doesn't, Vermont does, and Vermont doesn't count in a Republican primary.

Posted by: Paul | Sep 9, 2011 2:08:16 AM

Quote of the Night about the AMERICAN (GOP) debate last night, "The moment that would have broken my father's heart was the moment when applause broke out at the mention of more than 200 executions ordered by Rick Perry in Texas. It was stunning and brought tears to my eyes. This is what we've come to? That we applaud at executions?" - Patti Davis, Ronald Reagan's Daughter

Posted by: peter | Sep 9, 2011 4:46:13 AM

peter --

Actually, President Reagan supported the death penalty. He oversaw one execution while Governor and reinstated the military death penalty while President. Was he barbaric?

The applause was the only way the audience had of disapproving the question's holier-than-thou implication that the DP is a stain. I know YOU think it's a stain, but American voters don't (see any poll -- I've put many up).

Many of us think the world is a better place having said goodbye to Timmy McVeigh, John Wayne Gacy, Ted Bundy, etc., et al. If you think otherwise, you're entitled to your view. It does not, however, influence primary outcomes for American political parties.

Personally, I can't wait for the Presidential candidate who says, "We were wrong to dispatch Timothy McVeigh." Not only will I know whom to vote against, I'll know who'll be losing in a landslide.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Sep 9, 2011 11:01:09 AM

peter --

One more thing. In a 1981 speech, Reagan responded to a capital punishment question thusly:

"Well, I had an answer to that on my desk for several years while I was governor. It was a list of the names of 12 criminals, 12 murderers, who had all been sentenced to prison, who had all served their terms or been paroled, and released. And at the time the list was on my desk, their total number of victims then was 34, not 12. I think capital punishment in the beginning might have reduced that figure considerably."

Maybe Patti Davis can tell us what she thinks of her father's answer.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Sep 9, 2011 11:22:14 AM

Bill - Your defense of the applause is nothing less than I would expect. However, I suspect that Regan, as a committed Christian, demonstrated a great deal more humility and dignity at a personal level on this question than his political pronouncements may have conveyed, or those who applauded the other day displayed. As Michael Landauer (Dallas News) puts it "Even when Americans used to hang people from gallows, they did it with a basic level of dignity and humanity."

Posted by: peter | Sep 9, 2011 11:59:33 AM

peter --

"Your defense of the applause is nothing less than I would expect."

Of course your expectations are not the subject, and your answer is an evasion. In fact, and as I see you do not dispute, the applause was an expression of disapproval of Brian Williams' presumptuous and slanted questioning.

"However, I suspect that Regan, as a committed Christian, demonstrated a great deal more humility and dignity at a personal level on this question than his political pronouncements may have conveyed, or those who applauded the other day displayed."

Like what you "expect," what you "suspect" is not the issue. Nor, if a point be made of it, do you provide a wisp of documentation to support your suspicion. Instead you simply displace Reagan's actual words with what you tendentiously "suspect" he must have meant, and take off from there.

"Even when Americans used to hang people from gallows, they did it with a basic level of dignity and humanity."

As if you ever had a single nice thing to say about Americans' "dignity and humanity" when imposing the death penalty, from the gallows or anyplace else.

P.S. We have adopted lethal injection PRECISELY to improve the dignity and humanity of executions. I don't reacall your thanking us for that. Could you remind me of when you did that?

Posted by: Bill Otis | Sep 9, 2011 4:06:54 PM

peter

with all due respect to Reagan's daughter, that is pure speculation that the applause would have "broken his heart". Actually his Supreme Court, circuit, and district court appointments have strengthened the DP from the badgering the Carter appointees have done over the years and continue to try to do so.

Posted by: DaveP | Sep 9, 2011 5:56:58 PM

DaveP --

The one good thing about Carter's presidency is that he got no Supreme Court appointments. God still loves the United States.

P.S. To be fair to Carter -- always an uphill battle -- his appointment of Griffin Bell as Attorney General was really quite good.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Sep 9, 2011 6:29:25 PM

Bill Otis

Thank God that Carter didn't get to appoint Merritt, Martin, Reinhardt or any other ultra lefties to SCOTUS. They would have voted with Brennan and Marshall and DP litigation would be quite different than it is today.

Posted by: DaveP | Sep 9, 2011 7:16:14 PM

Perry should care a little more about who is on death row, as there happens to be a man there who insists on his innocence and DNA would prove if that is true or not. However, Perry refuses to sign the paper ordering the DNA test. It has gone to perry MORE THAN ONCE, all he has to do is say sign the damn thing and a DNA test will be done. This man on death row even said if it comes back positive match, he will stay quiet and accept his fate, but he knows it will prove his innocence. Does Perry care? NO!!! The sad part is: No one in Texas cares about the inmates. The public would be surprised about the injustice of the state's justice system if they just opened their eyes. The longer Perry is in office, the worse it gets..but the rest of the public, nationwide, can just sit there blind saying "they shouldn't have done it"...yet it doesn't take much to get there and it could happen to you. Perry needs to care more about the death row inmates, several have been put to death just to find out later they were innocent, but Perry didn't even bother apologizing to their family, just shrugged it off..real President material!!

Posted by: Lily | Sep 11, 2011 1:47:06 AM

yep Perry reminds me alot of adolf hitler in the mid 1930's and just about as dangerous

Posted by: rodsmith | Sep 11, 2011 2:05:29 AM

rodsmith

do you really seriously think Perry is like Hitler? Come on. Perry doesn't even order the executions. Does Perry remind you of Osama bin Laden too?

Posted by: DaveP | Sep 11, 2011 10:11:29 AM

no offense daveP but i think Perry is as big a threat to this country as hitler was to his. When you look at the shape texas is in and how it LEADS the country and the WORLD in individuals cleared sometimes DECADES after the fact of being not guildity of the crimes they have wasted their lives in prison for. When some of his DA's are trying to arrange for the AUTOMATIC destruction of ALL evidence in a trial after conviction...YOUR DAMN right he reminds me of HITLER!

Posted by: rodsmith | Sep 11, 2011 2:32:38 PM

Lily --

"Perry should care a little more about who is on death row, as there happens to be a man there who insists on his innocence and DNA would prove if that is true or not."

Who's that? Roger Coleman?

"This man on death row even said if it comes back positive match, he will stay quiet and accept his fate, but he knows it will prove his innocence."

So he'll stay quiet? OK, assuming that's true (which I don't) will YOU stay quiet? Or will you just move on to the next inmate who claims innocence? If so, you'll have an easy time. Just about all of them claim it.

"...yet it doesn't take much to get there and it could happen to you."

What utter nonsense. It takes a boatload to get there and the chances that "it will happen to you" if you're innocent are microscopic.

"Perry needs to care more about the death row inmates, several have been put to death just to find out later they were innocent..."

Could you please name, say, three of the "several" innocents who have been put to death during Perry's tenure and tell us what neutral body -- a court or anything else -- has determined that they were, in fact, innocent?

You've got a lot of claims there, Ms. Lily. Let's see some backing for them.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Sep 12, 2011 9:44:24 AM

rodsmith

I thought Florida had the most death row "exonerations" in the nation. Who do you blame for that?

Posted by: DaveP | Sep 12, 2011 2:11:53 PM

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