Wednesday night’s execution in Texas of a Mexican national convicted of killing a Houston police officer has given the candidates vying to be the state’s next attorney general an opportunity to weigh in on the death penalty — revealing only slight differences in how they might have handled the case.
Texas officials went ahead with Edgar Tamayo’s execution despite pressure from both the Mexican and U.S. governments to delay it. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry warned that the execution "could impact the way American citizens are treated in other countries."
Among the Republicans vying to replace Attorney General Greg Abbott, who is running for governor, all of them said they would have proceeded with the execution.
Enrique Marquez, state Rep. Dan Branch’s campaign manager, said in an email that Branch “has never wavered in his belief that the death penalty is a just punishment for the most heinous crimes.” Marquez said that because “there seems to be no question about Edgar Tamayo's guilt or of the due process,” Branch would also have allowed the execution of Tamayo to go forward.
State Sen. Ken Paxton, R-McKinney, said in an email that Tamayo was “punished in accordance with state law, which provides for the death penalty.” He said there was no need for a delay.
And Railroad Commissioner Barry Smitherman, who has long favored capital punishment on the stump, said Texas officials acted properly.
In 2002, during an interview with the Harris County district attorney’s office, where he was hired as a prosecutor, Smitherman apparently led his interviewer to believe otherwise. "Smitherman is opposed to the death penalty for religious reasons,” notes from his personnel file state. “He said that being pro-life doesn’t ‘square with’ the death penalty.”
Smitherman’s campaign said his views had been mischaracterized in the notes.
“Barry supports, and has always supported, the death penalty for the most heinous and violent criminals,” Jared Craighead, Smitherman's campaign manager, said in an email. “… It is clear that there was a misunderstanding in a short interview with one person that occurred over a decade ago regarding Barry’s views on the death penalty."
Only Sam Houston, a Houston attorney and the lone Democrat in the race, said he would have asked for a delay in the execution. But his personal views on the death penalty don’t appear to be much different from his Republican counterparts.
Houston said that in the Tamayo case, he is concerned that violating international treaties could put Americans in danger abroad and “have further far-reaching ramifications.” He added that he had “no sympathy” for the offender.
Houston said he believed that the process by which criminals are convicted and given the ultimate punishment should be carefully scrutinized to make sure no innocent person is put to death. But if the appropriate legal process is followed, he said, “I am not personally opposed to the death penalty.”
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This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at http://www.texastribune.org/2014/01/23/how-would-next-ag-handle-major-death-penalty-cases/.