The death of innocents

Rick Perry almost certainly has sent one innocent man to his death

Two events in recent weeks have focused attention on the death penalty. One was the execution of Troy Davis in Georgia; the other was Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s response to questioning during a presidential candidates’ debate about the 234 people executed on his watch.

Davis’ execution raised serious questions about police misconduct, the unreliability of eyewitnesses, and the contamination of eyewitness testimony. The Georgia Pardon and Parole Board’s decision to go ahead with the execution was a terrible miscarriage of justice.

Perry, asked whether he ever struggled to sleep at night worrying that an innocent person might have been executed, replied, “No, sir. I’ve never struggled with that at all.” He insisted that Texas’ criminal-justice system has a “very thoughtful, a very clear process in place” for assessing guilt or innocence.

But does it? Numerous Texas prisoners have been released when DNA evidence showed they weren’t guilty. And there’s near certainty, based on advances in arson science, that Cameron Todd Willingham, who was executed in 2004, had not, in fact, murdered his three children by setting his home on fire. And just last year reporting in Texas Monthly magazine helped spring an innocent man, Anthony Graves, after 18 years on death row.

Innocent people do get executed. The only way to avoid that is to stop executing people.