Anyone who seeks evidence that the system of capital punishment is unfairly applied, sometimes to innocent people, or insane people, or retarded people, need look no further than Austin, Texas.

Austin, of course, is where the governor presides who signs death warrants and determines whether clemency should be granted to spare a prisoner from execution.

They do a piss poor job of it. The past two governors, George W. Bush and Rick Perry, appear to be particularly egregious in perpetuating this injustice.

Since 1976, when the death penalty was reinstated in the United States, and May 1, 2012, 1294 legal murders have been carried out. 482 or 37% have taken place in Texas.

Under Bush, from the time he assumed office as governor in 1995 to 2000 when he resigned after being elected President by the Supreme Court, 152 Texas prisoners were put to death.

Under Perry, 243 prisoners have been murdered.

Therefore of the Texas total of 482, 395 have occurred under these two governors.

These executions include those convicted as juveniles, those who were severely mentally retarded, those who were certifiably insane, and those who were innocent.

In addition, many of these executed people were convicted in cases where there was gross prosecurtorial misconduct, where defense attorneys were drunk, where defense attorneys were incompetent or indifferent, and where defense attorneys slept during the trial.

Which brings us to our current news.

A Texas judge who reviewed the controversial 2004 execution of Cameron Todd Willingham planned to posthumously exonerate the father who was put to death for killing his three daughters in a house fire.


Scientific experts who debunked the arson evidence used against Willingham at his 1992 trial and a jailhouse witness who recanted his shaky testimony convinced District Court Judge Charlie Baird in 2010 that “Texas wrongfully convicted” him. But Baird’s order clearing Willingham’s name never became official, because a higher court halted the posthumous inquiry while it considered whether the judge had authority to examine the capital case.

While waiting for permission to finish the case from the Third Court of Appeals, Baird put together the document that “orders the exoneration of Cameron Todd Willingham for murdering his three daughters,” because of “overwhelming, credible and reliable evidence” presented during a one-day hearing in Austin in October 2010.

Yes, Willingham was convicted of setting his house on fire with his three young daughters inside where they perished. Subsequent investigations by arson experts determined that the fire was not arson but an extremely tragic accident. Yet Perry and the various boards dealing with such matters in Texas never permitted such new evidence to be formally presented for the possible exoneration of Willingham.

For the entire horrific story of this miscarriage of justice, read this extensively researched and eloquently written piece from The New Yorker.


Of course this report of the frustration of Judge Baird in at least attempting to give public recognition to the enormous wrong done Willingham comes on the heels of the announcement by a team of Columbia University researchers under law professor James Liebman has concluded that Carlos De Luna, executed in 1989 in Texas, was, in fact, innocent of the murder for which he was convicted.


Yes, that act predates Governors Bush and Perry, but is itself further indicative that there is indeed something rotten in the State of Texas (not Denmark). No tragedy written by Shakespeare can compare to the tragedies writ in blood by real life humans in the Lone Star State.

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