Texas Gov. George W. Bush claims that he can sleep comfortably at night,
resting assured that the dozens of people he has personally condemned to death
were in fact guilty.
By any measure, Bush's swaggering certainty says more about his intellectual
and emotional depth than it does about the relative guilt or innocence of the
men and women who have been executed in what Amnesty International, Human Rights
Watch and other international monitoring authorities describe as Texas'
barbaric, error-ridden program of state-sponsored killing.
Because the Texas executions are generally carried out in the shadows of
public indifference and official malice that characterize that state's
"justice'' system, Bush has until now been able to claim ignorance of case
details that might have troubled his sleep.
But no more.
If Bush does not act today, Texas death row inmate Gary Graham will be put to
death. If that execution goes forward, it will be because Bush has chosen to
appear "tough on crime,'' rather than because Graham is guilty beyond a
Doubts about Graham's guilt are, in fact, overwhelming:
** Witnesses who were at the scene of the crime Graham supposedly
committed have come forward to say that he is not the man who committed the
** Evidence has surfaced showing that police and prosecutors
deliberately failed to call witnesses who could have cleared Graham.
** Legal experts are in near-unanimous agreement that Graham received
an inadequate and inept defense. So serious have concerns about the poor legal
work become that, on the basis of reports regarding the case of Graham and other
death row inmates, the District Board of Judges for Harris County in Texas has
overhauled procedures for death penalty cases: Lawyers who handle capital cases
now must be certified to prove that they are competent to do so.
** Upon hearing details that were concealed from them by prosecutors,
two jurors in Graham's case have come forward to say that they would probably
have changed their "guilty'' votes had they known all the details of the
case. "I always had a bad feeling about it,'' said juror Bobby Price.
"My gut feeling was he wasn't guilty.''
In the face of these doubts, Bush can and should do everything in his power
to stop tonight's execution from taking place. Despite the fact that Bush aides
are attempting to suggest that the governor has limited options in the case,
that is simply not true: Experts on Texas law say that Bush has the power to
grant a 30-day stay of execution -- as former Texas Gov. Ann Richards did when
Graham last faced an execution deadline. Bush certainly has the power to
pressure the state Pardons and Paroles Board -- which he effectively controls --
to slow down the execution machinery. Finally, he has the bully pulpit; he could
resign as governor of Texas rather than allow the killing under his watch of a
man who may well be innocent.
Only one factor weighs against doing the right thing: politics. Bush does not
want to appear "weak'' on the death penalty issue because he fears it could
undermine his presidential run.
But if this is the only factor weighing in favor of going ahead with
tonight's execution, then there is a very real prospect that Graham will be
murdered for political purposes.
Is murder too tough a word? No. Even those who accept state-sponsored killing
as a cure for society's ills agree that death sentences must only be carried out
when there is certainty that the awesome authority of the government to take a
life is not being abused.
Abuse of that authority -- particularly in one's own political self-interest
-- is the most serious crime that can be committed in civilized society. If a
governor knowingly condemns someone who may be innocent to death, that official
is far worse than the common street thug who takes a life. Why? Because the
street thug acts on his own when he wrongly takes a life, while the governor
uses the authority vested in him by all of society when he commits precisely the
© 2000 The Capital Times