The Washington Post

Presidential debate: Rick Perry says ‘I’ve never struggled’ with death penalty

Republican presidential candidate Texas Gov. Rick Perry speaks during the Ronald Reagan Centennial GOP Presidential Primary Debate at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library on Sept. 7, 2011 in Simi Valley, Calif. (Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

When moderator Brian Williams asked the governor if he loses sleep over executions in his state — Perry has overseen more executions than any governor in modern history: 234 and counting — Perry said, “I’ve never strugged with that at all.”

The audience applauded. But outside the debate, the reaction wasn’t so positive.

Kristin Chick, a Christian Science Monitor reporter, shared a tragic New Yorker story about a father in Texas who was executed for allegedly killing his daughters but later found to be innocent.

“He should have struggled with this one,” she wrote.

Ezra Klein tweeted: “If Perry has never struggled with the idea that the judicial system has made a mistake, there's something wrong with him.”

“Perry has ‘never struggled’ with whether innocent person has been executed. Science, though, that's a puzzler,” U.S. editor of the Guardian Janine Gibson wrote sarcastically, referencing Perry’s questioning of climate science.

In a story published last month, the Post’s Robert Barnes found that Perry held the record on executions in his state, in part because of how long the governor has been in office, but also because “Perry has hardly shrunk from the task.”

Barnes cites Perry’s book “Fed Up!”, in which the governor writes: “If you don’t support the death penalty and citizens packing a pistol, don’t come to Texas.”

Barnes also describes how Perry went up against the Bush administration in the Supreme Court over the death sentences of 51 Mexican nationals. President Bush tried to force state courts to review the sentences because the convicted had not been allowed to consult Mexican authorities. Perry didn’t want them reviewed, and the court ruled in his favor.

Perry also pushed ahead the execution of Humberto Leal, a Mexican national who had been convicted of the rape and killing of a teenager but whom Bush had serious qualms about giving the death sentence while he was in the governor’s office. (President Obama, the International Court of Justice and the Mexican government also said he should get a stay of execution.)

“Texas is not bound by a foreign court’s ruling,” Perry’s press secretary, Katherine Cesinger, said unapologetically of the case.

Post opionion writer E.J. Dionne writes that “the episode dramatizes the way in which these inevitably politicized death penalty cases — Perry is mulling a Republican presidential candidacy — seem to harden us and rob us of reason.”

It’s unlikely Perry is losing any sleep over that criticism.


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