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BY Jim Cosgrove
AUSTIN, Texas—The Texas Catholic bishops have asked Gov. George W. Bush to suspend executions pending a thorough review of the state's system for carrying out capital punishment.
In a Feb. 16 letter, Richard Daly, executive director of the Texas Catholic Conference, asked on behalf of the state's bishops that Bush suspend all future executions on a case-by-case basis.
Under the Texas Constitution, the governor does not have the authority to issue a blanket order stopping executions, even temporarily. But it would be legal for the governor and the Board of Pardons and Paroles to suspend executions individually as they come up while a study is conducted.
Illinois Gov. George Ryan on Jan. 31 imposed a moratorium on executions in his state pending review of the process. Several other states have legislative proposals in the works to impose similar limits and reviews.
‘Of the 85 individuals who have been released from death row in the United States (since capital punishment was reinstated in 1976), seven have been released in Texas,’ said Daly's letter. ‘It's essential that if the state is going to impose the ultimate punishment that there be no margin of error.’
By Feb. 19, half of the nation's 14 executions in the year 2000 had been carried out in Texas.
A spokeswoman for Bush told the Associated Press he had no plans to stop executions. When asked about the death penalty during a presidential debate earlier in the week, Bush defended its use in Texas.
‘These are people who have had full access to the courts of law,’ Bush said. ‘There's no doubt in my mind that each person who's been executed in our state was guilty of the crime committed.’
‘The Texas Catholic Conference will join with other anti-death penalty groups during the next legislative session to attempt to legislatively mandate a moratorium on executions in Texas while such a study is undertaken,’ Daly's letter said. ‘The bishops believe that it is important to initiate such a study as quickly as possible.’
Daly said he is aware of at least three people on Texas death row who have strong claims of innocence. One, Odell Barnes Jr., has been scheduled for execution on March 1.
The Catholic bishops of Texas oppose the death penalty in all cases, but they also are concerned about related issues, Daly noted, ‘including the significant evidence of racial bias in sentencing and the inadequacy of legal counsel for poor defendants in Texas.’