Alberto Gonzales on Crime

Attorney General

Found no reasons to grant clemency to death row inmates

As governor’s counsel [to Gov. Bush in Texas] Gonzales says the most notable issues were those relating to the death penalty. “Part of my job as counsel was to advise the governor, along with my team in the counsel’s office, on issues relating to clemenc --not issues relating to guilt or innocence, but whether or not this person was an appropriate candidate for clemency. Those were memorable.”

The author of an article in the July/August 2003 Atlantic Monthly found those cases memorable for other reasons, stating that Gonzales gave insufficient counsel, failed to take into consideration an array of factors, and instead actively worked against clemency in a number of borderline cases. That criticism--that he, in effect, gave his boss the legal justification he wanted--would be levied against Gonzales later on a much larger scale.

Source: Interview with Mitch Kaplan, Rice University , Jul 2, 2005

Severity of crime supercedes mental health of perpetrator

Between 1995 and 1997, Gonzales repeatedly failed to apprise the Governor of crucial issues in the cases at hand, even actual evidence of innocence. Take the case of Terry Washington, a 33-year-old mentally retarded man with the communications skills of a 7-year-old. Gonzales’s clemency memo didn’t even mention his mental retardation, his lawyer’s failure to call for the testimony of a mental health expert on this issue, or Washington’s history of child abuse.

Gonzales’s memos focused heavily on repeating the purported gruesome details of the crime, no doubt making it easier for the governor to feel he was doing the right thing by denying clemency. Gonzales claimed that his execution briefings had always provided Bush a detailed factual background of what happened, along with other outstanding facts or unusual issues.

In 2002, the Supreme Court held that executing the mentally retarded is “cruel and unusual” punishment prohibited by the 8th Amendment. It was too late for Washington.

Source: FindLaw.com article by John Dean , Jun 20, 2003

Reviewed 57 executions in Texas; no clemency

Gonzales has left quite a paper trail--in the form of fifty-seven death-penalty memoranda he prepared for then-Texas Governor George Bush. The memos were initially confidential, meant for the Governor alone. They have not themselves been published. But they have been reviewed by writer Alan Berlow of The Atlantic Monthly, and his report on their contents is disturbing indeed.

During Bush’s six years as governor 150 men and two women were executed in Texas. From 1995 to 1997, Gonzales acted as his legal counsel when the then-Governor decided whether to grant clemency, or to allow the executions to go forward. Berlow concludes that the memos reflect “an extraordinarily narrow notion of clemency.” They appear to have excluded, for instance, factors such as “mental illness or incompetence, childhood physical or sexual abuse, remorse, rehabilitation, racial discrimination in jury selection, or the competence of the legal defense.”

Source: FindLaw News, “Execution Memos”, by John Dean , Jun 20, 2003

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Page last updated: Dec 14, 2011