by Roger Ebert
Yesterday I read this in an article in the British Guardian newspaper:
"Twelve of the last 13 people condemned to death in Harris County, Texas were black. After Texas itself, Harris County is the national leader in its number of executions.
"Over one third of Texas's 305 death row inmates - and half of the state's 121 black death row prisoners - are from Harris County.
"One of those African Americans, Duane Buck, was sentenced based on the testimony of an expert psychologist who maintained that blacks are prone to violence. In 2008, Harris County District Attorney Chuck Rosenthal resigned after sending an email message titled 'fatal overdose,' featuring a photo of a black man lying on the ground surrounded by watermelons and a bucket of chicken."
I could pause at this point, type "case closed," and consider this a blog entry. But that would be too simple. White people are also executed at an efficient pace in Texas. The odds of being given the death penalty in that state are fearsome, and the chances of having your sentence overturned on appeal are dismaying. So far in his two terms in office, Rick Perry has declined to commute the sentences of 235 condemned prisoners. During George W. Bush's time in office, Texas executed 152 prisoners, more than any other governor in modern American history before Perry.
Bush commuted the death sentence of one prisoner, Henry Lee Lucas, who had been charged with murder in 189 cases and "was once listed as America's most prolific serial killer." (Wikipedia.) His decision was recommended by the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles, based on evidence that on the day of the specific murder Lucas was convicted of, he was not in Texas. Perry has commuted the death sentences of two prisoners, both also on the recommendation of the Board of Pardons and Paroles. It would appear that if the board rejected your appeal, your chance of having the sentence overturned by Bush or Perry was zero.
In 2000, Illinois Governor George Ryan, a Republican, declared a moratorium on the death penalty in Illinois. In one fell swoop he commuted 160 death sentences to life sentences. Ryan explained that he believed execution was appropriate in the case of "heinous crimes," but noted that during his first year in office "Thirteen people were released from jail after appealing their convictions based on new evidence." (Wikipedia) I was at a dinner party with Ryan at about that time, and he told us, "The possibility that we would be executing an innocent man made it impossible for me to sleep at night."
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