“On the face of it, Perry had every reason to give [Humberto] Leal [Garcia], who had spent 16 years on death row, another month to live. He could have called the bluff of some of his critics and also presented himself as a potential-be commander-in-chief with a view not only beyond Texas but also stretching farther than American shores.
President Barack Obama had argued that executing Leal would endanger American citizens abroad. This was because Leal, an illegal immigrant who entered the US as a toddler, had not been given the opportunity to have access to Mexican consular officials, a right enshrined in the Vienna Convention.
Perry, who walks and talks like the Marlboro Man, would even have had political cover because President George W. Bush, his predecessor as Texas governor, had reached the same conclusion as Obama.
So why didn’t grant a stay? If he’d been looking for a post-governorship entree into polite society in Washington, he might have assented. But to refuse was consistent with his approach thus far to administering the death penalty. And in terms of running for the White House there would have been no political advantage to do otherwise – as Bush himself and former President Bill Clinton would doubtless attest.
When Clinton was running for president in 1992, he flew back to Arkansas, where he was governor, to oversee the execution of Ricky Ray Rector, a double murderer who was so mentally impaired that he saved the pudding from his last meal so he could eat it later. A decade later, the Supreme Court ruled that mentally retarded prisoners could not be executed.
Just before Bush’s presidential run in 2000, he resisted calls to save Karla Faye Tucker, a born-again Christian who became the first woman to be executed in Texas in 135 years. When the journalist Tucker Carlson asked Bush about the case, the future president, Carlson reported, pursed his lips in mock desperation as he whimpered and imitated the condemned woman begging : “Please don’t kill me.”
Neither Clinton nor Bush suffered electorally because of these executions and the former, in particular, probably benefited because it helped neutralise the argument that Democrats were soft on crime.”
I’m waiting for the day when signing a death warrant — whether it’s for someone who’s guilty or innocent, mentally retarded or not, adequately represented at trial or not — becomes politically costly rather than a signal of somehow being fit to govern … but that day seems sadly very far off.