Texas does lots of things on a grand scale, including executing people
Last Tuesday, as the state of Texas prepared to execute Terry Lee Hankins,
people gathered in several U.S. cities and on 2 continents to mark a
milestone in Rick Perry's tenure as governor. Hankins, by no means a
sympathetic character because of his gruesome crimes, became the 200th
person to be executed in Texas since Perry has been in office. He was the
16th to be put to death by the state this year.
To mark the occasion, anti-death penalty protests were held in Huntsville;
Austin; Houston; Albuquerque, N.M.; Paris; and Leipzig, Germany.
Texas is notorious throughout the world for the number of executions it
carries out each year, raising fears that the state has made mistakes and
that innocent people likely have been killed in the death chamber.
Hankins was guilty, having been convicted of killing 2 of his
stepchildren. He also was charged with the murders of his wife, father and
his mentally challenged half-sister who was pregnant probably by him,
I'm often asked by people regarding such cases, "If anybody deserves the
death penalty, don't you think he does?"
Maybe. But you must understand that those of us against capital punishment
don't believe the state should be in the killing business period,
regardless of someone's crime.
The state ought never to be engaged in carrying out systematic homicides.
And, yes, execution is a homicide.
While the state is obligated to administer punishment when crimes have
been committed, it ought not to be carrying out vengeance.
One of the speakers at the Huntsville protest last week was Jerry
Williams, a sociology professor at Stephen F. Austin State University,
whose sister was beaten to death on Mother's Day morning in 1985. Her
assailant was given life in prison, but was released on parole after
serving 15 years in prison.
"I hated him," Williams said. "I wanted to see him die. I wanted to see
him suffer in prison. And I thought justice would be done only in that
way. But what I realized over time was that my hate really diminished me.
It damaged me and did nothing for him."
In anticipation of the 200th execution milestone, the most under one
governor in modern U.S. history, Amnesty International last April issued a
report on capital punishment in this country, focusing on "too much
cruelty, too little clemency."
Of course the major attention was on the Texas death penalty system, which
the human rights organization said "remains one that is fatally flawed and
not reserved for the so-called 'worst of the worst,'" due in part to the
idea of "future dangerousness" whereby during sentencing jurors are asked
to decide if the defendant will remain a threat to society.
"'Future dangerousness allows junk science and irrational fears based on
race, youth or mental illness to affect the outcome of death penalty
cases," said Jared Feuer, southern regional director of AIUSA, in a press
The Amnesty report noted, "Texas, where about seven percent of the U.S.
population resides, and where fewer than 10 % of murders occur, has
accounted for 37 % of the country's executions since 1977, and 41 % since
2001, when Governor Perry came into office."
It went on to point out, "There were 152 executions in Texas during the
nearly 6 years of the [George W.] Bush governorship (1995-2000). Now
looming is the 200th execution during Rick Perry's term in office. The
combined total of more than 350 executions in Texas under these 2
governors represents 30 % of the national total since executions resumed
in the USA in 1977. Virginia is ranked 2nd to Texas in executions. In 30
years, Virginia has killed 103 people in its death chamber, 1/2 the number
put to death in Texas in 8. This is geographic bias on a grand scale."
We in Texas have long had a reputation of doing things on a grand scale.
"How many of the 200 people executed under Perry's watch were innocent?"
asked Scott Cobb, president of Texas Moratorium Network, which helped
organize the protests. "Perry could have taken a large step to reduce the
risk of executing an innocent person if he had supported a moratorium on
executions. Now, he may have to answer for the execution of Todd
Willingham, who most likely was innocent of the arson/murders for which he
was executed in 2004."
Despite the guilt or innocence of the condemned individual, how does
anyone preside over 200 homicides and sleep at night?
And I continue to wonder: When will we in Texas come to our senses and end
(source: Column, Bob Ray Sanders, Fort Worth Star Telegram)