In death penalty cases, Bush looks at guilt, the courts
Tuesday, September 7th 1999, 12:00 am
News On 6
AUSTIN, Texas (AP) -- Gov. George W. Bush spared the life of a
man who once confessed to 600 murders. He denied a reprieve for a
repentant, born-again Christian woman.
While the cases may seem like a contradiction, Bush's decisions
on one-eyed drifter Henry Lee Lucas and pickax killer Karla Faye
Tucker illustrate the Republican presidential front-runner's views
on the death penalty, which he supports.
"I took an oath of office to uphold the laws of our state,
including the death penalty," Bush says. "My responsibility is to
ensure our laws are enforced fairly and evenly without preference
or special treatment."
Since 1982, when Texas resumed carrying out the death penalty,
185 men and one woman have been executed in the state. Last week's
execution of Raymond James Jones was the 100th since Bush became
governor in 1995. A third of the nation's executions are carried
out in Texas.
Bush was spared making a decision in the case of Larry Keith
Robison, who was scheduled to be executed last month for a rampage
in which five people were slain near Fort Worth 17 years ago.
Only hours before Robison was to receive a lethal injection, the
Texas Court of Criminal Appeals sent the case back to the trial
court for a review of his mental competence.
Still, Bush drew criticism.
"As he seeks the U.S. presidency under the ruse of
'compassionate conservatism,' Bush must not just talk the talk, he
must also walk the walk and show compassion," civil rights
advocate Jesse Jackson said.
Political analysts suggest the issue isn't a major factor in
"It doesn't seem to have been a pivotal issue in very many
state or local races, let alone a national race," said Bruce
Buchanan, political scientist at the University of Texas.
Drake University political scientist Dennis Goldford said a
presidential candidate's stand on the death penalty is viewed as
symbolic of whether the candidate is considered tough on crime.
"Whether it helps or hurts a candidate has to do with whether
it's something a single-issue voter is going to seize on -- will
they vote solely on that basis? And the bulk of the criminal
justice is in state hands; the federal government has very few
death penalty cases," Goldford said.
As each execution approaches, Bush says he asks two questions:
"Is there any question about the guilt of the individual? Have the
courts had adequate opportunity to review all the legal issues
If there's no doubt about guilt and if the courts have spoken,
Bush says, an execution must proceed.
Thus, Lucas lived. And Ms. Tucker became the first woman put to
death in Texas since the Civil War.
Neither case was simple.
Ms. Tucker, 38, was on death row for the grisly killings of two
people in 1983. In a tape recording played in court, she bragged to
friends that she got sexual thrills out of the attack.
But she said she'd become a Christian in prison and was
rehabilitated. Her cause was championed by an international cast of
The Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles unanimously rejected her
request for clemency. Without such a recommendation, Bush was left
only with the power to grant a one-time, 30-day reprieve, which he
"I have concluded judgments about the heart and soul of an
individual on death row are best left to a higher authority," Bush
Lucas' case was another story.
One of his 600 murder confessions nationwide -- all later
recanted -- helped land him on Texas' death row. It came in the 1979
slaying of an unidentified woman, referred to as "Orange Socks"
for the only clothing on her body when found in a roadside ditch.
A prosecutor in the case, Ken Anderson, said jurors carefully
weighed the evidence. He noted that 23 judges had reviewed the case
and let their verdict stand.
But news reports and an investigation by a former Texas attorney
general pointed to work records and a cashed paycheck to indicate
that Lucas might have been in Florida when the woman was killed.
The parole board voted to recommend clemency. Bush commuted
Lucas' sentence to life in prison.
He said it was the first case that he had reviewed as governor
in which there was some doubt about the individual's guilt.
Dudley Sharp, of the Houston-based victims' rights group Justice
for All, said Bush's standards for such decisions "are probably
the best ones he can use."
He said that both the Tucker and Lucas cases were
"But he considered them just like he does all of the others,"