Despite 41 DNA Exonerations In Texas In Last 9 Years, Perry Says He Never Loses Sleep Over Executing The Innocent

Perry has overseen 235 executions as governor.

At last night’s GOP presidential debate in California, front runner Gov. Rick Perry (R-TX) defended his record of overseeing 235 executions in Texas, the most of any modern governor by far and nearly half of those conducted in the state since the death penalty went into effect in 1976.

Perry insisted that he’s never lost sleep at night worrying that any one of them might have been innocent. “I’ve never struggled with that at all,” Perry said.

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That’s despite the fact that during Perry’s tenure as governor, DNA evidence has exonerated at least 41 people convicted in Texas, Scott Horton writes in Harper’s. According to the Innocence Project, “more people have been freed through DNA testing in Texas than in any other state in the country, and these exonerations have revealed deep flaws in the state’s criminal justice system.” Some 85 percent of wrongful convictions in Texas, or 35 of the 41 cases, are due to mistaken eyewitness identifications.

Those exonerations include Cornelius Dupree, who had already spent 30 years in prison for rape, robbery, and abduction when DNA evidence proved unequivocally that he was not the man who had committed those crime. Tim Cole, the brother of Texas Sen. Rodney Ellis (D), was posthumously pardoned a decade after he died in prison when DNA evidence proved his innocence. The total failure of the Texas courts to protect these innocent individuals reveal a system plagued by racial injustices, procedural flaws, and a clemency review process that’s nothing but a rubber stamp on executions.

Leading the country in wrongful convictions probably should give Perry a moment’s pause about the reliability of a criminal justice process he described last night as “thoughtful.” Perry has allowed the execution of juveniles, the mentally disabled, and people who have had such inadequate counsel that their court-appointed lawyers literally slept through their trials. Additionally, Perry has overseen the executions of seven foreign nationals and two men who were accomplices but did not actually commit murder.

And he may well have already executed an innocent man. The case of Cameron Todd Willingham, who was executed in 2004 for the arson deaths of his three daughters and maintained his innocence until his dying day, will likely continue to haunt Perry throughout the campaign. Several scientists and forensics experts have questioned the evidence that led to Willingham’s conviction, but Perry “squashed” an official probe into his execution.