Rick Perry's struggles with the GOP base can largely be traced back to the debate in late September in which he called opposition to tuition assistance for illegal immigrants "heartless." Given his subsequent drop in the polls, he is now contemplating skipping future debates. But for liberal audiences, the most chilling moment of Perry's brief debate history came when he defended Texas' status as the country's execution leader. Perry practically reveled with glee as he described dolling out the "ultimate justice" (at the time, I noted his sharp departure in tone from the last Texas governor who ran for president).
It was a truly disturbing moment because evidence from one case in Texas indicates that at least one innocent man, Cameron Todd Willingham, was put to death during Perry's tenure as governor. And Perry may be on his way to executing another innocent man. Hank Skinner was convicted of killing three people—his girlfriend and her two children—and sentenced to death in 1995. His execution is scheduled to take place November 9. Skinner has maintained his innocence all along, and there is ample DNA evidence from the crime scene that has never been tested. The Texas Tribune reported this week:
In Skinner’s case, DNA evidence presented at the original trial showed his blood was at the scene, and an ex-girlfriend — who later recanted her testimony — told jurors that he confessed to her. Not all the available DNA evidence was tested, though. Among the untested items were a rape kit, biological material from the victim's fingernails, sweat from a man’s jacket resembling one that another potential suspect often wore, a bloody towel and knives.
A group of politicians and lawyers (including a former Democratic governor) sent a letter to Perry requesting that the execution be stayed until DNA testing can definitively prove Skinner's guilt or innocence. Instead, Perry has passed off responsibility to the state attorney general's office, which has denied motions filed by Skinner's lawyers for further testing.