Law, Politics

Alan Berlow’s Atlantic Monthly article about death penalty memos written by White House counsel Alberto Gonzales to then-Governor George Bush is subscriber only, but fortunately John Dean provides a good summary in an article over at Find Law. Here is an excerpt:

During Bush’s six years as governor 150 men and two women were executed in Texas,” Berlow reports in the Atlantic, a record unmatched by any other governor in modern American history.”

From 1995 to 1997, Gonzales acted as his legal counsel when the then-Governor decided whether to grant clemency, or to allow the executions to go forward. What kind of counsel did Gonzales provide? According to Berlow, he repeatedly failed to apprise the governor of crucial issues in the cases at hand: ineffective counsel, conflict of interest, mitigating evidence, even actual evidence of innocence.”

Berlow writes that the memos reflect an extraordinarily narrow notion of clemency.” They appear to have excluded, for instance, factors such as mental illness or incompetence, childhood physical or sexual abuse, remorse, rehabilitation, racial discrimination in jury selection, the competence of the legal defense, or disparities in sentences between co-defendants or among defendants convicted of similar crimes.”

Take the case of Terry Washington, a thirty-three-year-old mentally retarded man with the communications skills of a seven-year-old executed in 1997. Gonzales’s clemency memo, according to Berlow, did not even mention his mental retardation, or his lawyer’s failure to call, at trial, for the testimony of a mental health expert on this issue. Nor did it mention that the jury never heard about Washington’s history of child abuse; he was one of ten children, all of whom were regularly beaten with whips, water hoses, extension cords, wire hangers, and fan belts.”

If all this information was missing from the memos, just what did they include?

They focused heavily on repeating the purported gruesome details of the crime. By doing so, they no doubt made it easier for the governor to feel he was doing the right thing by denying clemency.

Did I mention that Gonzalez is a likely Bush Supreme Court nominee?

ELSEWHERE: In a tangentially related post, Amardeep Singh discusses the memo as a literary genre.

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