The death penalty in Texas is not a hot button issue, with the overwhelming majority of Texans supporting it. Still, it is important to know where candidates for public office stand on the issue, especially candidates for Attorney General. Barry Smitherman has stated publicly that he supports the death penalty, going so far as to say that, referring to people that have committed capital murder, “those people do not deserve to live on planet earth with those of us that are law abiding citizens”. Here is that interview:
For reference, the interview was on the Chad Hasty radio show with a guest host by the name of Matt Crow on July 26, 2013. Click here for the full interview.
Now, you may think that because the Texas Attorney General doesn’t normally handle criminal cases that it isn’t important to know where a candidate stands. I would point you to the case that made Ted Cruz famous before he ran for Senate - Jose Medellin. In case you don’t recall, Medellin was a Mexican national here illegally when he and others brutally murdered and raped Elizabeth Peña and Jennifer Ertman. The United Nations and the United States, under President George W. Bush, wanted Texas to stop the execution of this brutal rapist and murderer because they said he should have had the opportunity to call the Mexican consulate. Fortunately Cruz prevailed and Medellin was executed.
As I told you a couple of days ago, I did a Public Information Act requesting information from the Harris County District Attorney’s office about Mr. Smitherman’s trial record. I included his personnel file in that request. In that file was a document dated October 28, 2002 from Dan Rizzo to the Hiring Committee. Click here to read the entire document. Pay very close attention to this entry:
Smitherman is opposed to the death penalty for religious reasons. He said that being pro-life doesn’t “square with” the death penalty. I explained that being in favor of the death penalty is not required to work here.
I asked Smitherman about that entry today. He gave me much the same answer as his spokesperson gave Reeve Hamilton at the Texas Tribune:
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.”
The problem is that Dan Rizzo is very well respected in the Harris County District Attorney’s Office. No one that I spoke to from/in the office believed that he would make such a mistake of this magnitude on such a high profile issue in the department. No one.
I also spoke with Mr. Rizzo, who retired from the office 4-5 years ago. He did not remember Mr. Smitherman or the interview.
So we are left with a choice. Do we believe Mr. Smitherman and his claim that the Mr. Rizzo “misunderstood” or, as he told me this afternoon, was “confused”.
Or, do we believe what Mr. Rizzo wrote in his report at the time? Note that the Smitherman spokesperson said “short” interview but the document suggests that Mr. Rizzo was very thorough in his evaluation, and the insiders at the HCDAO say that Mr. Rizzo was very thorough. And exactly how could he get confused about an issue that is fundamental to being a prosecutor?
And about the note, think about what Smitherman (allegedly) said: his religion prevented him from supporting the death penalty. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that and, as Mr. Rizzo wrote, supporting the death penalty is not a requirement to be hired at the HCDAO. But many, many people believe that you can be against abortion, the taking of what is inarguably an innocent life, and support the death penalty, because, as Smitherman now says, “those people don’t deserve to live on planet earth with those of us who are law abiding citizens”.
Election year conversions are always interesting. And sad when they go against your fundamental beliefs. I’ll leave it at that and let you decide if Barry Smitherman is telling the truth today and if he is the right choice to represent the State of Texas.