Opinion Brief

Rick Perry's death penalty 'disgrace': A 2012 dealbreaker?

As a presidential run looks likely for the Texas governor, questions resurface about his role in the execution of a man who, according to forensics experts, was innocent

Texas Gov. Rick Perry has not officially entered the race for the 2012 GOP presidential nomination, but a Wall Street Journal report quotes a reliable Republican source who says Perry has decided to run. Political strategists say moderate frontrunner Mitt Romney is vulnerable to a challenge from the right, making Perry a potentially strong candidate. But Ta-Nehisi Coates says in The New York Times that Perry's bid could be haunted by his role in the execution of an innocent — or seemingly innocent — Texas man named Cameron Todd Willingham. Could this "disgrace" really hobble Perry's candidacy?

Outside Texas, this case will cost him: The fact is that Perry denied Willingham a stay of execution despite "the overwhelming post-execution evidence that Texas made an irreversible mistake," says the Los Angeles Times in an editorial. The evidence used to convict Willingham of setting a fire that killed his three small children was based on junk science. It's understandable that execution-happy Texas would overlook that and re-elect Perry to his third term, but "the rest of the nation may not be so forgiving."
"Rick Perry: The presidential candidate dogged by a ghost?"

No, voters won't care: A single "unsexy" case is not the kind of thing that tips a national election, says SteveM at Balloon Juice. Willingham was railroaded, partly thanks to a jailhouse informant who later recanted, and "Perry quashed an investigation into the dubious use of forensics in the case." But voters won't care. "Sending an innocent man to the death chamber — heck, that's just iconographic American justice, Southern style."
"Ambitious Texas governors, curiously unhaunted"

Perry should brace for tough questions: The Willingham case isn't widely seen as a dealbreaker for Perry, says Wendy Kaminer at The Atlantic, but if he runs he can expect a lot more "unwelcome publicity" about this notorious execution. "Senator Kay Bailey Hutchinson cited Perry's role in this execution and cover-up in her unsuccessful 2010 primary campaign against him." In the spotlight of a presidential campaign, a lot more people will be asking how someone with a "fatal disdain for justice" can be the moral leader "godly voters" are seeking.
"Rick Perry's moral problem"

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