Perry Asked To Halt Texas Man's Execution
MICHELE NORRIS, Host:
Rick Perry's frontrunner status puts a spotlight on his state's relationship with the death penalty. In a debate one week ago, NBC newsman Brian Williams noted that Texas has executed 234 people while Perry has been governor. Perry defended the system.
G: The state of Texas has a very thoughtful, a very clear process in place in which when someone commits the most heinous of crimes against our citizens, they get a fair hearing. They go through an appellate process. They go up to the Supreme Court of the United States, if that's required.
NORRIS: That process is now under greater scrutiny. Governor Perry has been asked to stop a controversial execution scheduled for tomorrow.
For more, we turn to Wayne Slater of the Dallas Morning News. Wayne, welcome back to the program.
WAYNE SLATER: Great to be with you.
NORRIS: Now, Dwayne Edward Buck is the man scheduled for execution tomorrow. A few quick details about his case - he was convicted of shooting two people in 1995. His innocence is not the flashpoint here. The case is controversial in part because of testimony from a psychologist at his trial. The jurors were told that there was a greater likelihood that Buck might be dangerous in the future because he's black. Buck is African-American.
Why is this case garnering so much national attention? And what kind of test does it present for Governor Perry, as he tries to become President Perry?
SLATER: Well, as you said, Texas has a history of fairly robust executions. It is something that happened under George W. Bush. Even moderate governor Ann Richards supported the death penalty in Texas. So that isn't something that is - gets that much attention in Texas.
The attention here is because of the issue of race. And in a state, a Southern state, that has a troubling history, where you have a governor who's talked about states' rights, states' rights, states' rights in the context of financial and fiscal matters, it's impossible not to think about the race issue. Are we executing somebody not because he is guilty, but is the sentence delivered because he is black?
NORRIS: Now, there's an interesting twist in this Buck case, because then-Texas Attorney General John Cornyn, now a Texas senator, at the time admitted that the Buck case and others - I think it was five others - have been unconstitutionally tainted by racial testimony from this same psychologist.
SLATER: That's right. John Cornyn, as you say, now a U.S. senator, then-attorney general of Texas, saying each of these ought to have a hearing. But, at the moment, the state's board of pardons and paroles has said no, we're not going to stop this. It now goes to the governor, Governor Rick Perry to award or not award a 30-day reprieve, and ultimately presumably to the U.S. Supreme Court.
NORRIS: And what kind of test then does that present for Perry, now that he's on a very different stage as a GOP candidate - as actually the front-runner at this point?
SLATER: Yeah, I mean, you know, in Texas, if you are governor and you look like you want to offer a reprieve or to delay, you look soft on crime. That is a problem. In the case of Rick Perry now, as you say on the national stage, he, I think would find it very difficult in a Republican primary to offer up something that looks like leniency, however brief, for a convicted murderer.
NORRIS: In brief, what is Perry's record on the death penalty?
SLATER: In these cases - of 234, now 235, after an execution on Tuesday of this week - Rick Perry has been a stalwart supporter of the death penalty.
NORRIS: Are there allegations or suggestions that one or more of the people executed during his term in office might have been innocent?
SLATER: Absolutely. There is a fairly well-known case. It's complicated but it raises questions, fundamental questions, about whether a person who was accused and convicted of burning a house and killing his children, Todd Willingham, whether he was actually guilty or not. The testimony posthumously indicates that he very well may have been sentenced on erroneous testimony.
B: I'm confident, I sleep well at night, I don't think anyone who is innocent has been executed.
NORRIS: Wayne Slater, thanks so much for making time for us.
SLATER: Great to be with you.
NORRIS: Wayne Slater is a writer with the Dallas Morning News.
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