This excellent article from Mother Jones’ Beth Schwartzapfel details how a guilty rapist tried repeatedly to confess to a crime of which another man had been convicted, only to succeed after the innocent man had died. The ensuing exoneration was so complete that then-Governor Rick Perry had to issue a pardon to the dead man, not something Texas governors are generally inclined to do. Rick Perry’s faith in Texas’ system, however, remains serenely unshaken.
A string of devastating stories has put Texas justice, in particular, under a cloud. In addition to Cole’s postmortem exoneration and the execution of Cameron Todd Willingham, chronicled in The New Yorker in 2009, there is also the case of Anthony Graves, who served 18 years for a gruesome murder while the true killer confessed again and again. Graves was finally freed in 2010 following a Texas Monthly exposé.
Cole, Willingham, and Graves were all convicted under prior Texas governors. But Perry has done little to improve the state’s criminal-justice system, which has almost a million people in its grip. In 2001, he vetoed a bill banning the execution of the mentally disabled. In 2003, he cut the prison system’s budget by $230 million, slashing education programs, drug treatment, and food; when an independent auditor warned that was untenable, Perry cut the auditor’s office too. In 2007, his administration backed a bill making some child sex offenders eligible for the death penalty. While Perry has signed legislative reforms covering eyewitness identification and access to DNA testing, the system still offers scant options for the many people imprisoned for crimes they did not commit.
Radley Balko’s blog The Agitator remains an indispensable source of information on cases like these, as well as the uncountable cases in which the War on [Some People Who Use Some Kinds] of Drugs* has metastasized into a cancer that gets untrained local law enforcement rolling out in surplus military gear to perform ill-advised and pointless SWAT-style raids. (With tanks. No, really.) And shoot everybody’s dog when they get there. And maybe their grandmother. Seriously, don’t read the blog if you don’t want to hear about the cops shooting someone’s dog every goddamn day. His recent coverage of the OWS movement has been…how shall I say this…not all I would have hoped from a lover of liberty, but no one’s obliged to agree with me all the time, and it’s not as though it’s rendered the blog unreadable or something.