Death, Certainty and Rick Perry

23 October 2011

It is a macabre record, but it doesn’t bother Texas Governor Rick Perry.  Perry was asked in a recent debate if he ever lost sleep worrying that any of the 234 people executed in Texas on his watch may have been innocent.  “No, sir,” he answered proudly, “I’ve never struggled with that at all.”

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How good would the criminal justice system have to be to  justify Perry’s absolute peace of mind?   To avoid any nagging doubt about the occurence of wrongful executions, it would have to be a very rare thing indeed – as rare as, say, being struck by a meteor.  If sentencing innocent people to die is that rare, it would be silly to lose sleep worrying about it.  Could the courts be that good?  If only one of the 234 people executed in Texas were innocent it would have an error rate of 0.4%.  In other words, if the courts get it right 99.6% of the time, odds are that one person was wrongfully executed in Texas during Perry’s governorship.

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A 2007 empirical study in the Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology concluded that the courts are nowhere near that good.  Working with a sampling of capital convictions in the 1980s in which DNA was a factor and dividing by the number of exonerations, Seton Hall law professor Michael Risinger concluded that wrongful convictions in capitol murder cases occur 3.3% of the time.  If Texas suffers from a 3.3% error rate in death penalty cases, the statistical likelihood is  that eight innocent people were executed during Perry’s tenure.  As a matter of record, only one Texas death row prisoner was exonerated and released while Perry was governor.

 
One wonders how Governor Perry is so blissfully unconcerned.  Does he have a direct line to the Most High?

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