Bush Suddenly Wants to "Make Doubly Sure"

Thursday, February 03, 2005

Bush Suddenly Wants to "Make Doubly Sure"

Normally, I would be very receptive to a president who declared:
"Because one of the main sources of our national unity is our belief in equal justice, we need to make sure Americans of all races and backgrounds have confidence in the system that provides justice.

"In America we must make doubly sure no person is held to account for a crime he or she did not commit -- so we are dramatically expanding the use of DNA evidence to prevent wrongful conviction. Soon I will send to Congress a proposal to fund special training for defense counsel in capital cases, because people on trial for their lives must have competent lawyers by their side."
But the person who spoke these State of the Union words last night is a man who didn't lift a finger when he was governor to make sure that "people on trial for their lives" receive competent legal counsel.

Remember what George W. Bush's Texas was like? In February 2000, Stephen B. Bright, a Yale Law School lecturer and director of the Southern Center for Human Rights, wrote this op-ed in the New York Times:
Mr. Bush, who has presided over more than 100 executions, has never expressed a doubt about the assembly-line process by which Texas courts dispatch people to its execution chamber.

... Texas has no public defender system. Instead, the presiding judge in a case assigns a lawyer to represent the accused. Judges have sometimes chosen lawyers with an eye toward getting cases disposed of quickly ... The lawyers are compensated at far below what attorneys can make for less demanding work. They are often denied the assistance of investigators and experts necessary to make an independent determination of a defendant's guilt.

... The lawyer representing a defendant named George McFarland, who is now on death row, repeatedly fell asleep and snored during his trial in Houston. Texas' highest criminal court -- made up of judges chosen in partisan elections, some of whom ran on platforms supporting the death penalty -- upheld the death sentences in Mr. McFarland's trial and two others in which defense attorneys fell asleep. One of those defendants, Carl Johnson, was executed in 1995.

... Yet last year Governor Bush vetoed a bill, passed unanimously by both houses of the Texas legislature, that would have taken a few modest steps toward creating public defender offices in Texas counties.
In this February 2000 op-ed, Bright urged then-Gov. Bush to "show some concern for justice by following the example of his presidential campaign chairman in Illinois, Gov. George Ryan, who last week announced a moratorium on executions in his state."

Bush did nothing of the kind. Back then, Bush was far more interested in trading politically on his image as pro-death penalty than he was on making "doubly sure" that innocent people aren't put to their death.

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