Dallas County district attorney reconciles opposition to death penalty
with the law
Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins created a conviction
integrity unit. He invited law students into his office to help probe for
wrongful convictions. And there is at least one other way Watkins differs
from most other prosecutors: He is personally opposed to capital
punishment. In recent interviews, Watkins discussed those feelings and how
he reconciles them with Texas law and the policies of his office.
Why are you opposed to capital punishment?
I'm a human being, and as a human being, I will not kill anybody. I don't
want to use my position to take a life, even though you may go out and do
a heinous crime. I may be even worse than you because I have the full
weight of the government behind me. For me to use the full weight of the
government to do the same thing that you did, is that justifiable?
We just agreed to seek the death penalty against a guy that raped a
3-year-old girl and strangled her and left her under a bed. When I see
that, the human side of me says, "Yeah, that guy should be killed." But
then the government is the supreme being, right? You're in a supreme
position. You're higher than human existence and you should carry yourself
Given your feelings, when your office seeks the death penalty, do you
personally sign off on that?
Professionally that's something I have to do . . . for the citizens I
represent. . . . It's the law and I have to implement it. I can't let my
personal views get in the way of what the public wants.
Will your feelings about the death penalty ever affect the policy of your
I would like to think that I have the courage to stand up and say no [to
capital punishment]. But Im not at that point. I don't know if I ever will
be. It's so early in my career as DA. I don't have any seniority. I don't
have any credibility. . . . That might be a fight that I should fight, but
at this point it's too early.
Do decisions on capital cases cause you any sleepless nights?
All the time. Not just the ones that I make the decision on. Every time I
read in the newspaper that someone is going to the death chamber, I don't
sleep. . . . They just did one last week with one of the Texas Seven. I
pay attention to that. That's something I struggle with, even though the
person did something really bad.
Are you concerned your position on capital punishment will hurt you
I think it will, obviously. I can foresee the attacks that will come my
way. But at the end of the day, the public wants honesty and openness. The
fact that I am publicly trying to come to a conclusion on this is good for
the system, and it's good for politics. I dont think politicians are
(source: Fort Worth Star-Telegram)