[Ppnews] Adios Ann Richards: The Original Texacutioner

Political Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Mon Sep 18 12:54:37 EDT 2006


(and one of the darlings of shows like Democracy Now 
and the KPFA News)

September 18, 2006

The Original Texacutioner

Adios Ann Richards


In the end, it's fitting that Bill Clinton would eulogize Texas 
ex-Governor Ann Richards for the "big things" she accomplished. 
Executing 49 people, including two juveniles and two mentally 
disabled prisoners certainly is "big." Clinton only executed three 
people as Governor of Arkansas.

Of course, next to George W. Bush, who more than tripled Richards' 
numbers at 152 kills, everyone looks like a lightweight. That's 
probably why many liberal commentators bent over backwards to praise 
the recently deceased ex-Texas Governor as a civil rights pioneer and 
progressive. Richards, who lost her job as Texas Governor in 1994 to 
GW, appears as the archetypal hero of the "anybody but Bush" crowd. 
After all, her place in that national political spotlight came after 
her "poor George" speech when she famously skewered then-President 
George Bush Sr. as having a "silver foot" in his mouth.

In an era when the only fortitude Democrats demonstrate is their 
willingness to defy their political base and slavishly prop-up the 
right's agenda, the myth of a larger-than-life Texan who sacrificed 
her political career to stand up for her ideals is appealing.

But Richards's civil rights credentials crumble when you consider the 
outrageous and obvious racial-bias of Texas' death row. Of the 49 
executions she allowed, over half were minority prisoners -- even as 
non-whites made up less than 25% of the population. While Blacks made 
up approximately 25% of murder victims annually, less than 4% of 
those executed were accused of killing Blacks. 87% the executed 
involved those accused of killing whites. Texas's death row was (and 
continues to be) so bad that in 1994, the Death Penalty Information 
Center's Richard Dieter described the situation as "in crisis."

Richards' 1990-94 stint as Governor spans an era when Democrats 
eagerly shed progressive positions in a rush to appeal to the right. 
One of the first "liberal" positions to be jettisoned was opposition 
to the death penalty. Leading the way was 1992 presidential candidate 
Bill Clinton, who left the campaign trail to mug in front of cameras 
as he oversaw the execution of mentally disabled Ricky Ray Rector. 
This display set the stage for the massive increase in executions 
during the Clinton years that would peak in 1999 with 98 executions 
nationally in a single year. Clinton and the Democratic Leadership 
Council gave a lead to Democrats nationwide who drew all the wrong 
lessons from Bush Sr.'s successful race-baiting Willy Horton attacks 
ads and the meek ineffectual response to these challenges by 
Democratic challenger, Dukakis, in 1988.

Which brings us back to Richards. Her famously sharp tongue was still 
when it came to the death penalty. When asked would she support a 
death penalty abolition bill if it passed the Texas legislature, her 
sarcastic "I would faint" response betrayed indifference. When asked 
directly on the campaign trail about her views, she said, "I will 
uphold the laws of the State of Texas." Considering the racial and 
class composition of the Texas killing machine -- this commitment to 
the law sounds more George Wallace than MLK Jr.

In 1992, an opportunity to take a stand for justice came with 
juvenile death row prisoner Johnny Frank Garrett. Garrett was 
severely mentally impaired individual described as chronically 
psychotic and brain-damaged. His life was such a horror show that one 
mental health expert described Garrett as "one of the most virulent 
histories of abuse and neglect...I have encountered in 28 years of practice."

According to Amnesty International:

"As a youth, Garrett was raped by his stepfather, who then hired him 
to another man for sex. From the age of 14 he was forced to perform 
bizarre sexual acts and participate in pornographic homosexual films. 
He was first introduced to alcohol and other drugs by members of his 
family at the age of ten and subsequently indulged in serious 
substance abuse involving brain-damaging substances such as 
paint-thinner and amphetamines. Garrett was regularly beaten and on 
one occasion was put upon the burner of a stove, resulting in severe scarring."

Richards, was called on by human rights groups all over the world to 
halt the execution, but instead she meekly weighed in to temporarily 
delay the execution and then deferred to the Governor appointed Texas 
Board of Pardons and Parole and allowed it proceed on February 11, 
1992. To Richards standing up for Garrett just wasn't worth the effort.

That same year, the US Supreme Court infamously blocked Texas death 
row prisoner Leonel Herrera's request from presenting 
newly-discovered evidence he claimed proved another man was 
responsible for the murder. Herrera had exhausted his appeals and no 
legal remedy was available for presenting the new evidence. The 
Supreme Court ruled innocence was not itself grounds for appeal.

Again, according to Amnesty International,

"Shortly before Herrera's execution date, a group of prominent Texas 
attorneys and former judges called on Governor Ann Richards to 
develop mechanisms so that condemned prisoners alleging miscarriages 
of justice would receive full and fair clemency hearings. The only 
response from the governor's office was a promise to 'study' the 
group's recommendations."

Leonel Herrera was executed on May 12, 1993. Herrera's last words 
were: "I am innocent, innocent, innocent. Something terribly wrong is 
happening here tonight."

Months later, juvenile offender Curtis Harris was executed in July 
1993. There was strong evidence of racial bias in the selection of 
the jury in Harris' case and his court-appointed attorney failed to 
present evidence of his mental disabilities and abusive childhood. 
Again, Richards did nothing.

In fact, during her time occupying the highest office in the Texas 
she did nothing to stop the death machine in Texas. To her, political 
expediency meant more than the lives of innocents, minorities, the 
mentally disabled, or juveniles.

Ann Richards support for incredibly barbaric and racist Texas death 
penalty should lay to rest any notion that she deservers to be called 
a progressive. Far from being a wistful alternative to GW Bush that 
progressives pine for, by paving the road for the slaughter to 
follow, her legacy is not only the dead men she executed, but it is 
also the 152 men and women GW Bush, her so-called nemesis, executed.

Goodbye Anne and good luck. Because if there's a heaven, it's a good 
bet Johnny Frank Garrett, Leonel Herrera, and Curtis Harris have been 
bending St. Peter's ear for quite some time now.

Mike Stark is a national board member of the Campaign to End the 
Death Penalty and a regular contributor to the New Abolitionist, the 
newsletter of the <http://www.nodeathpenalty.org/>Campaign to End the 
Death Penalty.

Jim Bullington is prison-literacy activist in Denver, Colorado . He 
is a native Texan and a member of the Campaign to End the Death Penalty.

The Freedom Archives
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