Texas's record as death penalty capital: a help for Rick Perry?
Gov. Rick Perry, a top-tier GOP presidential candidate, has public opinion on his side on the death penalty. With another execution set for Thursday night in Texas, the danger may be if moderate voters perceive him to be cavalier about taking human life.
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The Buck case is one of six that former Texas Attorney General John Cornyn, now a US senator, says need to be reopened because of racially charged statements made during sentencing hearings. Mr. Buck’s guilt is not in question – he was convicted in 1997 of killing two people – but his sentencing is under scrutiny because of a psychologist's testimony to jurors that black criminals are more likely to be repeatedly violent.Skip to next paragraph
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Buck’s attorneys are asking Perry to issue a 30-day reprieve so the matter can be further reviewed, and they are appealing to the US Supreme Court to intervene. At time of writing, neither the governor’s office nor the high court had issued a response.
Because Perry is out of the state, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst is set to preside over Buck's execution. Buck would be the second death-row inmate to die this week in Texas and the 11th this year.
Perry’s critics cite the case of Cameron Todd Willingham, executed in 2004 by lethal injection after being convicted of an arson that killed his three daughters. A leading fire scientist discounted the arson finding and suggested the fire could have been an accident, but Perry was not moved by his report to halt the execution. The case attracted national attention after a Chicago Tribune investigation highlighted a panel of experts who all agreed that the arson finding was wrongly applied.
What Perry has on his side is public opinion. Sixty-four percent of American adults favor the death penalty in cases of murder, compared with 29 percent who oppose it, according to a Gallup poll in October 2010, the last time the organization polled on the issue.
Perry is not likely to adjust his views on capital punishment, says Henson. “So far, it’s been more about modulation than moderation. I don’t think he’s moving to the center. Their strategy is, as much as possible, to run Perry as Perry,” he says.
If Perry were to win the GOP nomination, his hardliner approach on capital punishment is likely to join “a family of issues,” including creationism and global warming, that may “be lumped together as a combined source of vulnerability” for his campaign, says Bruce Buchanan, a political scientist at the University of Texas, at Austin.
“The swagger is appealing for people on the Republican side, but off-putting for people in the middle,” Mr. Buchanan says.