[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
By MIKE STARK and JIM BILLINGTON
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
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
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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