There were several memorable exchanges during Wednesday night’s Republican Presidential debate at the Reagan Library in Simi Valley, Calif. — but one of the most striking came between Texas Governor Rick Perry and NBC’s Brian Williams, who moderated the event.
Under questioning about the death penalty from Williams, Perry said steadfastly that he does not lose sleep over the possibility that his state has executed an innocent man.
Williams began his question by noting to Perry that Texas “has executed 234 death row inmates, more than any other governor in modern times…”
Perhaps surprisingly to some — including Williams — the crowd burst into applause, prompting the veteran journalist to pause.
As the applause subsided, Williams continued: “Have you struggled to sleep at night with the idea that any one of those might have been innocent?”
Perry replied, “no, sir.”
“I’ve never struggled with that at all,” he said. “The state of Texas has a very thoughtful, a very clear process in place of which — when someone commits the most heinous of crimes against our citizens, they get a fair hearing, they go through an appellate process, they go up to the Supreme Court of the United States, if that’s required.”
Perry then added: “But in the state of Texas, if you come into our state and you kill one of our children, you kill a police officer, you’re involved with another crime and you kill one of our citizens, you will face the ultimate justice in the state of Texas, and that is, you will be executed.”
Williams then followed up by referring to the audience’s ‘approving’ reaction to his statement about the number of executions in Texas.
He asked Perry: “What do you make of that dynamic that just happened here, the mention of the execution of 234 people drew applause?”
“I think Americans understand justice,” responded the longtime governor. “I think Americans are clearly, in the vast majority of — of cases, supportive of capital punishment.”
“When you have committed heinous crimes against our citizens — and it’s a state-by-state issue, but in the state of Texas, our citizens have made that decision, and they made it clear, and they don’t want you to commit those crimes against our citizens,” he added. “And if you do, you will face the ultimate justice.”