When It Comes to the Death Penalty, Americans are A-OK

As Patrick Caldwell mentioned already, of all eight candidates at last night’s GOP debate, it was Rick Perry who sickened many progressives when he defended his record on the death penalty:

“In the state of Texas, if you come into our state and you kill one of our children, you kill a police officer, you’re involved with another crime and you kill one of our citizens, you will face the ultimate justice in the state of Texas, and that is, you will be executed.”

Perry's smugness was so distasteful here in light of the well-publicized case of Cameron Todd Willingham, a Texan who was convicted of arson and murder after his three children died in a 1991 home fire. Willingham maintained his innocence, and after his conviction and death-penalty sentencing, new evidence, both personal and scientific, came to the attention of the court. Even in the face of flawed science, recanted witness statements, and experts willing to testify, Perry denied a stay of execution. Since Willingham's death, Perry has stymied an investigative commission set up to review the case.

Only second to the frustration of killing an innocent man is knowing that it's impractical to hold Perry accountable on the campaign trail.

A 2010 Gallup poll shows that 64% of Americans are in support of the death penalty in murder cases, with 49 percent saying it is not used enough. More critically for campaign season, 67 percent of independents are in favor of the death penalty.The most chilling statistic is the one that the Perry camp will undoubtedly count on during his campaign: -According a 2009 poll, 34 percent (or roughly a third) of the country simultaneously believe that an innocent person has been executed in the last five years and that the death penalty should still be used.

Based on these statistics, it seems like going after Perry's record on the death penalty would be an ultimately fruitless election strategy, especially given the disconcerting burst of applause that followed Perry's remarks. It's too bad, because it's a revealing example of who Rick Perry really is.

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