No Mercy: Gonzales Clemency Memos to Bush Facilitated Texas Executions

StoryFebruary 02, 2005
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Journalist Alan Berlow reports Alberto Gonzales, “repeatedly failed to apprise the governor of crucial issues in the cases at hand: ineffective counsel, conflict of interest, mitigating evidence, even actual evidence of innocence.” [includes rush transcript]

While Alberto Gonzales’ role in laying the legal groundwork for the torture of detainees took center stage at yesterday’s Senate debate, his time as Bush’s gubernatorial counsel during his days as Texas Governor was largely overlooked.

At that time, one of Gonzales’ most important jobs was to brief Bush on each execution in the state. During Bush’s six years as governor, there were 152 executions. For the first 57 of those cases, Gonzales wrote a briefing — an “execution summary” — for those Bush to review.

Journalist Alan Berlow obtained the memos and wrote about them extensively in The Atlantic Monthly in the summer of 2003. Berlow concluded Gonzales, “repeatedly failed to apprise the governor of crucial issues in the cases at hand: ineffective counsel, conflict of interest, mitigating evidence, even actual evidence of innocence.”

  • Alan Berlow, Washington-based freelance journalist who frequently writes about death penalty issues. He first obtained the clemency memos and wrote about them in the Atlantic Monthly in the summer of 2003.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Alan Berlow is a Washington-based freelance journalist. Welcome to Democracy Now!

ALAN BERLOW: Thank you.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you summarize for us Alberto Gonzales’s role as counsel to Governor Bush on this issue?

ALAN BERLOW: During the time that Bush was governor, as you pointed out, there were 152 executions. Bush granted clemency in one case. If you go through the archive of the Texas State Archive, which has the Bush gubernatorial record, you will see that in terms of the volume of correspondence, virtually 12%, I believe, of the correspondence coming in and out of that office concerned executions. There were executions as many as two a week, as many as eight a month. So, this was a major issue during Bush’s governorship, possibly the most widely reported issue. Now, Gonzales, who handled the first 57 of those executions, up through the execution of Karla Fay Tucker, was responsible for presenting a briefing to Bush. These typically took place on the morning of the execution. They lasted no more than 30 minutes. In addition to the oral briefing, Gonzales provided a written summary, which ran anywhere from three to seven pages, and as the article that you mentioned points out, very often Gonzales left out of those memoranda the most important evidence pertaining to clemency. In fact, I found no evidence that Gonzales transmitted a single clemency petition to Bush in any of the 57 cases that he handled. A clemency petition sets forward the most — the strongest case on the defendant’s behalf for some sort of commutation. Gonzales never saw fit to transmit one of those to Bush.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you share some examples with us, specific cases, Alan Berlow.

ALAN BERLOW: Well, I think the case of David Wayne Stoker might be one of the more interesting. As I describe it, I think it would be worth putting yourself in the position of a senator who has to pass on the confirmation of Gonzales, and ask yourself as a senator would you vote to execute David Wayne Stoker based on this information. Now, Gonzales wrote an 18-sentence summary of the case. Stoker was convicted, sentenced to die for murdering a convenience store clerk by the name of David Manrique in 1986 in a robbery that netted, I think, $86, or something along those lines. Gonzales’s 18-sentence summary left out a huge amount of information. He doesn’t mention that a federal appellate judge concluded that the state’s star witness against Stoker was just as likely the murderer. He didn’t note that a key state witness recanted his testimony following Stoker’s conviction. That witness explained that he had been pressured by the prosecution to perjure himself. He also doesn’t mention that the state’s star witness received a financial reward for fingering Stoker and had felony drug and weapons charges dropped the day he testified against Stoker. In addition, Gonzales didn’t mention that two police witnesses lied under oath at trial. The state’s expert medical witness had pleaded guilty to seven felonies involving falsified evidence in capital murder trials, and the state’s psychiatric witness, the notorious Dr. James Grigson, widely known as Dr. Death, had been expelled from the American Psychiatric Association for providing unethical testimony in murder cases prior to this clemency petition coming before Bush. So, Bush gets this clemency case on the eve of the execution of Stoker.

AMY GOODMAN: We have ten seconds.

ALAN BERLOW: 18 sentences. All of this information is left out, and Bush, as was his want, simply checks the deny clemency box on the form.

AMY GOODMAN: Alan Berlow, I want to thank you very much for joining us. Latest piece at

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