Rick Perry’s now infamous answer to a death penalty question during the NBC/Politico presidential primary debate — that he doesn’t lose any sleep over the 235 executions he’s presided over in Texas, specifically over whether any of those killed might have been innocent — inspired shock and some horror online. (Though much of the horror was reserved for the audience, which applauded the application of the ultimate penalty so often in the Lone Star State.)
WATCH THIS ORIGINAL VIDEO BY KATIE HALPER ON PERRY’S EXECUTION RECORD:
But are there executions that should have given the new GOP front-runner pause? Signs, including near-misses in which a prisoner on death row ultimately was released, and at least one disturbing case of what many believe was the execution of an innocent man, point to yes.
Duane Edward Buck
From Mother Jones: “Duane Edward Buck, is set to be executed by lethal injection on September 15 for murdering two people at the home of his ex-girlfriend in 1995. The issue at hand isn’t Buck’s innocence, but the means by which his death sentence was obtained. Prosecutors firmly established Buck’s guilt, but to secure a capital punishment conviction in Texas they needed to prove “future dangerousness” — that is, provide compelling evidence that Buck posed a serious threat to society if he were ever to walk free. They did so in part with the testimony of a psychologist, Dr. Walter Quijano, who testified that Buck’s race (he’s African-American) made him more likely to commit crimes in the future.” If the execution takes place, it will be Perry’s 236th.
Swearingen was sentenced to death in July 2000 for the kidnapping, sexual assault and murder of a Texas college student, Melissa Trotter. but DNA testing excluded him as the perpetrator, and forensic evidence suggests he was actually in the county jail at the time of the killing. Swearingen’s execution was stayed by the Texas Court of Appeals in July 2011, in order to allow the trial judge to review Swearingen’s claims of innocence.
Henry Watkins Skinner
According to Amnesty International last February, “The case against Skinner remains circumstantial, proving only that he was present at the scene of the three murders in question, a fact that he has never disputed. He maintains, with expert and other evidence to support his claim, that he was too incapacitated by alcohol and codeine to have been able to carry out the killings.
Since the 1995 trial, further evidence pointing to a possible alternative suspect has emerged and a key prosecution witness has recanted parts of her trial testimony.” The Innocence Project took up Skinner’s cause last year.
Last fall, Texas set Graves free after he had spent 18 years on death row. It was a close call for Perry’s Texas, which has had to release more innocent people from prison due to DNA evidence than any other state — at least 43 since the late 1980s, according to Paul Cates, a spokesman for the Innocence Project.
Cameron Todd Willingham
No case raises greater questions about the application of the death penalty under Rick Perry’s watch than the case of Willingham, who was executed in 2004 after being convicted of setting his house on fire and killing his three children.
Cates tells TheGrio: “in that case it seems clear, Perry received information from one of the nation’s most prominent arson scientists that the basis of Willingham’s conviction was faulty arson science and he continued with the execution anyway. There was another guy, Ernest Willis, convicted on an almost identical case and he was ultimately exonerated where Willingham was executed.”