Magazine article Editor & Publisher

The Unexamined Death Record of George W. Bush

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

The Unexamined Death Record of George W. Bush

Article excerpt

On Jan. 25, 1999, Brian Lamb conducted an extensive interview with George W. Bush on C-Span. The Texas governor took pride, in passing, on his having established "a rational system of justice" in the Lone Star State.

Between the U.S. Supreme Court's reinstatement of capital punishment in 1976 and New Year's Eve 1999, 598 people were executed across the nation. George W. Bush began his first term in 1995, and, since then, there have been 112 executions in Texas.

These statistics come from the Washington-based Death Penalty Information Center, which adds that, since 1976, Virginia has executed 73 inmates, the second-largest number by a single state.

Bush's criminal-justice record in this area provides a sharp insight into his brand of "compassionate conservatism," and at least qualifies him for the "Guinness Book of World Records," especially since 35 of the 98 executions in the United States last year were carried out under his watch.

Outside Texas, most of the press has not included these achievements in its continuous coverage of the Republican front- runner.

Nor do most Americans have any idea of how the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals - on which convicts on Death Row literally depend for their lives - has been functioning under Bush. So incompetent are some of the lawyers assigned to indigent defendants that death sentences have been imposed on three defendants whose lawyers have slept during their trials. One defendant has already been executed. The sentence of another has been upheld by the Court of Criminal Appeals. The third has been given relief - for now - by a federal judge.

An index of the climate of justice in at least one lower Texas court was this statement by state District Judge Doug Shaver, who presided over one of the trials during which the defense lawyer caught up on his sleep: "The Constitution," said Shaver, "doesn't say the lawyer has to be awake." No comment from the governor.

Bush, to my knowledge, has never been asked by the press his reaction to a 1998 statement by U.S. District Judge Orlando L. Garcia, who called the appointment of an inexperienced lawyer in a Texas case "a cynical and reprehensible attempt to expedite the inmate's execution at the expense of all semblance of integrity."

Another index of rational justice in Texas was the angry dissent last year by a judge on the Court of Criminal Appeals, Morris Overstreet, when his colleagues refused to even hear an appeal of a capital case because the lawyer had failed to file within the 180-day deadline. …

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