Debra J. Saunders
As Texas governor, GOP presidential hopeful Rick Perry has presided over 234 executions. It's a record number, which, The Washington Post reported last week, bestows on Perry "a law-and-order credential that none of his competitors can match -- even if they wanted to."

Watch how pundits will try to turn that statistic into a political negative -- and paint Perry as the governor with blood on his spurs -- even though American voters overwhelmingly support the death penalty.

The temptation to tout Texas' status as the state with the most executions will prove too seductive. It won't matter that, as the Post story points out, Perry has overseen more executions than any other governor in modern history because his state is the second-largest in the country and he has served as governor of that state for nearly 11 years or that the late Democratic Gov. Ann Richards oversaw 50 executions during her one term -- and unlike Perry, she never commuted a death sentence.

The irony here, points out Kent Scheidegger of the pro-death penalty Criminal Justice Legal Foundation in Sacramento, Calif., is that Texas does not deserve its reputation as the most execution-prone state. Scheidegger crunched federal data from 1977 to 2009 and found that among the nation's 34 states with capital punishment, Texas falls below the mean of 16.5 death penalty sentences per 1,000 murders. Delaware and Oklahoma have higher rates when it comes to executions.

Of course, the other big factor is that Texas is not California. Hence, its sentences are not crushed under the heel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. There is no federal judge in the Lone Star State who -- fearful, lest a convicted murderer be put at risk of feeling any pain during lethal injection -- issued an order that effectively stayed all state executions since February 2006, as happened in California.

In Texas, a governor actually can carry out the law.

So, how do pundits turn that into a negative? Death penalty opponents suggest that Perry presided over the execution of an innocent man, Cameron Todd Willingham, in 2004, after Willingham was wrongfully convicted for the 1991 deaths of his three daughters, 2-year-old Amber and 1-year-old twins Karmon and Kameron.

Barry Scheck, co-director of the Innocence Project in New York, has argued that an innocent man was executed. Investigators' finding of arson was seriously flawed. A number of journalists agree.


Debra J. Saunders


 
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