Capital Defense

President Bush said: “Soon I will send to Congress a proposal to fund special training for defense counsel in capital cases, because people on trial for their lives must have competent lawyers by their side.”

FACT: Bush held up the Innocence Protection Act, which provided funding for higher-quality defense counsel, even after it passed the House with overwhelming support. His administration wrote a 22-page letter saying the bill was the end of the world. He eventually signed it after it was badly diluted.

FACT: As chief legal counsel for then Gov. Bush in Texas, attorney general nominee Alberto Gonzales was responsible for writing a memo on the facts of each death penalty case — Bush decided whether a defendant should live or die based on the memos. An analysis of these memos by the Atlantic Monthly concluded that “Gonzales repeatedly failed to apprise the governor of crucial issues in the cases at hand: ineffective counsel, conflict of interest, mitigating evidence, even actual evidence of innocence.” In the case of Terry Washington, a mentally retarded 33-year-old, Gonzales’s memo “failed to mention that Washington’s mental limitations, and the fact that he and his ten siblings were regularly beaten with whips, water hoses, extension cords, wire hangers, and fan belts, were never made known to the jury.”