Friday, August 26, 2011

The West Memphis Three and the Death Penalty: What Would Texas Have Done?

A little piggyback on my posting yesterday about the response Arkansas journalist Gene Lyons has gotten to a recent posting that messed with Texas: this is Max Brantley, editor of the Arkansas Times, writing about the recent deal that allowed the West Memphis three to get out of prison:

In Texas, the WM3 would be dead by now. In Arkansas, imperfect as the deal may have been, they're free men and living.

This strikes me as a significant observation for folks in many places to consider, since I have just read David Brooks' appeal to us, in the New York Times, to begin taking Texas governor Rick Perry seriously as a Republican presidential candidate.  And so that means beginning to take seriously his legacy as governor of Texas.

Following Gregg v. Georgia and its reaffirmation of the use of the death penalty in the U.S., Texas has executed more inmates than any other state in the nation--four times more than Virginia, the state with the second highest number of executions, and almost 34 times more than California, the state with the largest number on death row.

Perry has been governor of Texas since 2000.

One would assume that these facts would be of some concern to the U.S. Catholic bishops, who have, in recent years, inclined to urge Catholic voters to vote Republican for pro-life reasons.  It will be interesting to track their response if Rick Perry is the Republican presidential candidate in 2012.

A postscript, later in the day: I wasn't living in Arkansas when the initial stage of the WM3 drama occurred, and I can't offer an informed opinion about that trial, its aftermath, or the latest events in the drama.  This I will say, though: Peter Jackson is absolutely correct when, in an article cited in the Arkansas Times thread to which I link above, he says that the Arkansas justice system can spectacularly mishandle cases.  I wouldn't by any means want to hold up my state's justice system as a model for other states to follow.  I believe, along with many others who know about this case, that justice was blocked in a very grievous way in a case that occurred in my hometown in my senior year of high school, when a black teenaged boy was murdered in cold blood, and several of my classmates were charged with the crime.

Any state whose economic structure is dominated, as my state's is, by a powerful elite of extremely wealthy people, when the large majority of citizens remain poor and undereducated, is not a state in which justice is apt to thrive.

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