This is the best article we have seen so far reporting on the 200th execution under Rick Perry. “200 Executions and Counting: Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s Cruel Death Tally” by Liliana Segura mentions several controversial executions under Perry, including those of Napoleon Beazley, Frances Newton and Todd Willingham.
Examining Perry’s long execution record, a number of cases stand out.
There was Napolean Beazely, one of the last juvenile offenders executed in the United States, who was put to death in 2002. Beazely was 17 years old, an honor student, football star, and senior class president with no prior criminal record when he fatally shot 63-year-old John Luttig, the father of a federal judge, in what was described as an attempted hijacking. By all accounts a model prisoner during his eight years on death row, Beazley admitted his guilt and repeatedly expressed his remorse for the crime:
“I knew it was wrong,” he told a packed courtroom at his sentencing hearing. “I know it is wrong now. I’ve been trying to make up for it ever since that moment. I’ve apologized ever since that moment, not just through words, but through my acts…. It’s my fault. I violated the law. I violated this city, and I violated a family — all to satisfy my own misguided emotions. I’m sorry. I wish I had a second chance to make up for it, but I don’t.”
A number of unlikely advocates tried to save Beazely’s life. According to the American Bar Association, “even Cindy Garner, the District Attorney from Napoleon’s home county (Houston County), testified at the sentencing hearing on Napoleon’s behalf. While she has been a strong proponent of the death penalty, she continues to maintain that the death penalty is inappropriate in Napoleon’s case.” Another unlikely ally was his trial judge, Cynthia Kent, who wrote to Gov. Rick Perry asking him to commute his sentence to life in prison, a request that fell on deaf ears.
In August 2001, the Supreme Court denied Beazely a stay of execution. In an unusual move, three of the justices — Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and David Souter — recused themselves because they had personal relationships with the victim’s son.
Beazely was executed on May 28, 2002. “Tonight we tell the world that there are no second chances in the eyes of justice,” he said before being injected with lethal chemicals. “Tonight, we tell our children that in some instances, in some cases, killing is right.”
Three years later, in the landmark case Roper v. Simmons, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled it unconstitutional to execute prisoners who committed their crimes before the age of 18, commuting all such death sentences to life.
“Maybe this man was innocent”: The Case of Cameron Todd Willingham
Napolean Beazely may have been guilty of the crime for which he was executed. But others have almost certainly not been.
Cameron Todd Willingham was executed on February 17, 2004 for setting fire to his own one-story home, a blaze that killed his three young daughters (one-year-old twins and their two-year-old sister). Willingham was convicted and sent to death row on a hastily executed arson investigation and jurors’ suspicion over the fact that he managed to escape the fire himself. But he maintained his innocence for years, right until he was strapped to the gurney. “I am an innocent man, convicted of a crime I did not commit,” he said in his final statement. “I have been persecuted for 12 years for something I did not do.”
Ten months later, on December 9, 2004, the Chicago Tribune published an investigative article that cast serious doubt on Willingham’s guilt.
“While Texas authorities dismissed his protests, a Tribune investigation of his case shows that Willingham was prosecuted and convicted based primarily on arson theories that have since been repudiated by scientific advances,” wrote staff reporters Steve Mills and Maurice Possley.
“According to four fire experts consulted by the Tribune, the original investigation was flawed and it is even possible the fire was accidental.”
Among the experts was Louisiana fire chief Kendall Ryland, who said it “made me sick to think this guy was executed based on this investigation. … They executed this guy and they’ve just got no idea — at least not scientifically — if he set the fire, or if the fire was even intentionally set.”
“Did anybody know about this prior to his execution?” asked one of the jurors who sent him to die, Dorinda Brokofsky. “Now I will have to live with this for the rest of my life. Maybe this man was innocent.”
The Willingham case “should shake the confidence of any Texan,” says Scott Cobb of the Texas Moratorium Network. ” … The risk of executing an innocent person is very real in Texas because of the pace of executions, exemplified by Perry’s record of 200. When you are executing that many people, the possibility of making a mistake is increased and that is likely what happened in the Willingham case.”
To read the rest of the article, go to 200 Executions and Counting: Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s Cruel Death Tally