On the eve of the second execution to have taken place on his watch, Governor Perry stated his belief that “capital punishment affirms the high value we place on innocent life because it tells those who would prey on our citizens that you will pay the ultimate price for their [sic] unthinkable acts of violence”. Even if one were to accept the notion that taking a prisoner from his or her cell, strapping them down and killing them, can somehow promote respect for life rather than erode it, the state’s “high value” label apparently attaches only to the lives of a few murder victims. There have been around 15,000 murders in Texas since 2001, and 249 executions. While that is 249 executions too many, it is clearly a highly selective approach to retributive killing. This begs the question of how the state chooses who to kill.
The US Supreme Court has said that the death penalty must be limited to “those offenders who commit a narrow category of the most serious crimes and whose extreme culpability makes them the most deserving of execution.” While international human rights standards expect governments to narrow the scope of the death penalty, with a view to its abolition, it is also the case that a majority of countries have stopped executing anyone, whether or not the state considers it possible to determine who the “worst of the worst” are. Moreover, the international community has agreed that the death penalty should not be an option even for those convicted in the International Criminal Court and other international tribunals of crimes such as genocide, torture, crimes against humanity and war crimes.
If the USA’s claim that it reliably limits its death penalty to the “worst of the worst” conjures images of rational, calculating, remorseless killers going to their execution under a capital justice system that weeds out errors and inequities, this picture tends to dissolve when one takes a look at who ends up in the country’s death chambers and how they got there.
Texas, Still Doing Its Worst: 250th Execution Under Gov. Rick Perry Imminent
October 30, 2012