The ever-reliable New York Times editorial page today lashes the audience at last week's Republican debate for applauding when Brian Williams tendentiously asked Rick Perry whether, among the 234 executions that have occurred on his watch, Perry had misgivings about whether any of the condemned might have beem innocent. Perry said he did not. The applause registered the audience's approval that a state might be so bold as to actually enforce capital punishment, which of course is the law, and quite a popular one.
The Times is aghast. What a bunch of wahoos!
It may not trouble Mr. Perry, but any clear-eyed observer would be shocked at the grim momentum of his state's death machine, which stops for no suggestion of error. The clearest and best-known illustration of that was the 2004 execution of Cameron Todd Willingham for the home fire that killed his three children, despite egregious flaws in the forensic science that helped convict him. In the face of serious questions, Mr. Perry refused to grant a reprieve for Mr. Willingham, and years later replaced the members of a state forensic commission that was about to hold hearings on the execution.
That is hardly the only questionable case during his tenure, as shown by a database developed by The Texas Tribune, a partner of The New York Times. In a recent report, The Tribune described the case of Kelsey Patterson, who was executed for two 1992 shootings despite a recommendation to Mr. Perry for clemency by the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles on the grounds of clear mental incapacity. He has also approved the execution of a man whose lawyer suffered from mental illness and was repeatedly disciplined; a man involved in a fatal robbery who did not kill the victim; and a man who was 17 at the time of a murder and received clemency recommendations from the trial judge and several legislators.
See what's missing?
Hint: Any assertion that a single one of these characters was actually innocent.
As to Willingham, the "forensic evidence" was flawed -- but no mention of the other evidence or of the fact that Willingham's own lawyer has said he was guilty. As to Patterson, it's not that he didn't do it, but that he was (or might have been) mentally deficient. As to the 17 year-old, no claim that he was anything but up to his ears in the murder.
And so on. Moral of story: When you hear something that starts out sounding like a claim of innocence, keep reading. The Times' editorial, like so many similar pieces, is designed to get you to think the subjects are innocent without actually establishing, or -- on examination, even purporting to establish -- any such thing.
The Times ends with this paragraph:
Mr. Perry is well known for being extremely parsimonious with his clemency authority. His attitude about death may make sense in the hard-edged Republican primaries, but other voters should have serious doubts about a man who seems to have none.
What "other voters" does the Times have in mind? According to Gallup, independents support the death penalty 65% to 30%, and Democrats by a whopping 58% to 36%.
So which "other voters" is the Times referring to?
Hint: The voters sitting around the desk and writing Times editorials.