How do you get mercy for a dying man on death row—a man who is also, by almost every account, innocent? You go to the governor. And around noon today, that’s just what the attorneys for Max Soffar did.
Yesterday, when we unveiled the cover of our July issue featuring Rick Perry, we also told you about "The Perry Report Card," an upcoming magazine feature where, as the title suggests, we graded the tenure of the governor on eight areas of public policy. We invited you to weigh in with your own grades for Perry on the subject of transparency and ethics. Under consideration today is his work on criminal justice.
Perry is (in)famously tough on crime. He fully endorses the use of the ultimate punishment (when warranted), and to that end has signed off on more executions than any other governor in modern history. And his record on that is unlikely to be exceeded, because the number of death sentences issued in Texas has dropped sharply since 2005--when he signed a law giving juries the option of sentencing murderers to life without parole. And that's just one of the ways in which his record is more nuanced than one might think. At the end of this past legislative session, he signed the Michael Morton Act (which is designed to prevent wrongful criminal convictions) into law, and earlier this year, he also came out in favor of letting states choose if marijuana should be decriminalized in their communities.
On April 29 a media frenzy erupted over a botched execution in Oklahoma. The story is now familiar: a doctor administered a three-drug cocktail to convicted murderer Clayton Lockett.
A majority of Americans favor the death penalty for a person convicted of murder. So too do a majority of Texans. Of note, though, is that this is an issue where Texans are markedly more conservative than Americans as a group, according to the polls, at least: as of 2013, according to the UT/Texas Tribune, 74% of Texans strongly or somewhat support capital punishment. By contrast, according to Gallup, 60% of Americans are in favor of it.
The disjunct may be partly due to the way the respective pollsters phrased their question--Gallup asked a binary question, whereas the UT/TT framework allows for a couple of shades of gray. Given that Texas famously leads the nation in executions, though, a more plausible explanation is that capital punishment is normalized in this state in a way that it may not be in others.
As executions go, Michael Yowell’s was not destined to be particularly notable. Fifteen years earlier, in Lubbock, he had been convicted of shooting his father and strangling his mother while trying to steal drug money. He left a gas jet on, which set the house on fire, and his grandmother, who could not escape, died in the blaze.
I remember feeling a little nervous when the heavy door leading to Death Row clanged shut behind me. I didn’t really know what I would see. Having never walked the concrete corridors of a Texas prison, or any other for that matter, I didn't know at the time that it was very much the same as any other cell block. Inmates stepped aside as we passed, eyes down, in their place behind a yellow line painted along the edge of the floor.
Carl Henry Blue was put to death Thursday evening, marking Texas's first execution of 2013. Blue, 48, was convicted in 1995 for setting ex-girlfriend Carmen Richards-Sanders on fire, ultimately causing her death.
Today we're publishing the fruit of our third collaboration to date with our pals at the Texas Tribune, the non-profit news organization that was founded in 2009 by our former editor, Evan Smith. In its few short years of existence, the Trib has emerged as one of the best outlets for politics and public policy reporting in the state, and one of the most interesting (and successful) non-profit news sites in the country. Amid the often depressing conversation about the future of the news media business, the Trib remains a bright spot, an example of how new business models can support innovative and important journalism that has real civic value.
We've watched with pride and excitement these past three and a half years as the Trib has established itself. And we've looked continuously for ways to work together to advance our mutual causes. The prime example of this, to date, has been our weekly collaborations on the Texas Report, a two-page section of state coverage that runs in the Texas edition of the New York Times on Fridays and Sundays. The Trib runs their politics and public policy reporting, and since 2011, Texas Monthly has provided the cultural coverage for this section (and by culture, we mean The Culture, as in stories about not just music, books, and movies but also Texas history, food, crime, art, celebrities, sports, and more). It's been a great match for all three media organizations.
But we haven't stopped there. Back in 2010 we published a story co-written by the Trib's energy and environment reporter, Kate Galbraith, on the history of the Texas wind power industry (a story that has now grown into an excellent forthcoming book to be published in April by the University of Texas Press). Last summer we ran another feature by Kate, about how the looming water shortages in Texas are being tackled by large industry. And shortly after that, we worked together to send Reeve Hamilton, the Trib's higher ed correspondent, to Qatar to report on the Texas A&M campus there.
The Trib has made a business of collaborating. Making their content freely available to newspapers around the state is part of their model. So we're thrilled to find even more extensive ways of working together. As Evan wrote in a post on their site today: