Sunday, November 29, 2009

Texas: Time for a Second Look, Repair

Patrick McCann has written an excellent editorial for the Houston Chronicle regarding the clemency process in that state. McCann and Rodney Brown recently convinced the State's Board of Pardons and Paroles to recommend a life sentence for Robert Lee Thompson. But, as McCann puts it, "Gov. Rick Perry declined to follow the advice of his own appointees and did not exercise his powers of mercy." He adds:
I am not starting a debate on the death penalty, as people's opinions are their own on this topic. I am simply here to discuss whether it is time we as a state looked hard at the way we decide who is or is not worthy of mercy, and thus, how our clemency and pardon process works. I cannot think of a better time to do this than around Thanksgiving, and as we approach the celebration of the life and death of history's most well known wrongfully convicted man. One of that gentle man's last acts was to forgive a condemned thief, if I recall correctly. We could probably do well to relearn this lesson.
He notes the Innocence Project "walks wrongly convicted men and women out of prison every week" so a "robust, vigorous clemency system" would be justified. Instead, McCann writes, the "hand of grace" is "only rarely" seen in the state of Texas. He also notes clemency processes in Texas

... do not require an actual hearing. They do not require a public meeting, open to those who wish to attend. They do not require any explanation to the public for whatever reasons a person's request to have such relief was denied. They require no record, no witnesses, no affidavits, no depositions, nor even a short explanation of the board's reasoning, or the governor's in those rare cases where the two views diverge on a particular case. There is no rational standard for deciding when to grant commutation in non-capital cases, as no one seems to know or to have laid out when too much time is enough. To any outsider, the process seems shrouded in mystery, or at the very least difficult to understand.
See full editorial here.

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