200 Executions and Counting: Texas Gov. Rick Perry's Cruel Death Tally
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At roughly 6 p.m. tonight, Texas Gov. Rick Perry will make history when he presides over the 200th execution of his tenure. It's a chilling achievement, one that dwarfs that of his predecessor, George W. Bush, who famously signed off on 152 (with a little help from his friend, then-legal counsel Alberto Gonzales).
Barring a most unlikely twist of fate, there's little doubt that Terry Lee Hankins will be dead by sunset. For death-penalty enthusiasts, this is cause for celebration; Hawkins -- a self-described "non-caring monster" who shot his wife and children in their sleep -- is held up as a poster child for state killing. One appellate prosecutor for the Texas Attorney General's office, Georgette Oden -- who recently joked on her blog that when asked at cocktail parties "So, what do you do?" she likes to boast "I kill people" -- wrote: "He's my best example of the kind of person who deserves the death penalty."
People like Oden would love to claim that all the people on death row are so cartoonishly deserving of death. But the past 25 years have painted a far more complicated picture, one that has shown the death penalty to be fraught with error, corruption, racism and prosecutorial misconduct.
Perry should know. His years in office have been marked by last-minute commutations, controversial executions and some 35 DNA exonerations of wrongfully convicted prisoners. In Harris County, which sends more prisoners to the death chamber than any other jurisdiction in the country, an ever-evolving scandal over its dilapidated and mismanaged forensics crime lab has provided an alarming backdrop to innocence claims by Texas prisoners, leaving little question that countless prisoners have been sent to prison -- and death row -- on tainted evidence.
One recent example is the tragic case of Timothy Cole, who spent 13 years in prison for a rape he did not commit. Cole, who suffered from severe asthma, died behind bars in 1999 only to be posthumously exonerated 10 years later when the real criminal came forward. Cole always insisted upon his innocence, refusing an offer of early parole on the condition that he admit his guilt.
"His greatest wish was to be exonerated and completely vindicated," his mother, Ruby Session, told Austin news station KXAN in February 2009.
A Cruel Legacy
Examining Perry’s long execution record, a number of cases stand out.
There was Napoleon Beazely, one of the last juvenile offenders executed in the United States, who was put to death in 2002. Beazely was 17 years old, an honor student, football star and senior class president with no prior criminal record when he fatally shot 63-year-old John Luttig, the father of a federal judge, in what was described as an attempted hijacking. By all accounts a model prisoner during his eight years on death row, Beazley admitted his guilt and repeatedly expressed his remorse for the crime:
"I knew it was wrong," he told a packed courtroom at his sentencing hearing. "I know it is wrong now. I've been trying to make up for it ever since that moment. I've apologized ever since that moment, not just through words, but through my acts. … It's my fault. I violated the law. I violated this city, and I violated a family -- all to satisfy my own misguided emotions. I'm sorry. I wish I had a second chance to make up for it, but I don't."
A number of unlikely advocates tried to save Beazely's life. According to the American Bar Association, "even Cindy Garner, the district attorney from Napoleon's home county (Houston County), testified at the sentencing hearing on Napoleon's behalf. While she has been a strong proponent of the death penalty, she continues to maintain that the death penalty is inappropriate in Napoleon's case." Another unlikely ally was his trial judge, Cynthia Kent, who wrote to Perry asking him to commute his sentence to life in prison, a request that fell on deaf ears.