Bush resumes campaign after emotional Texas execution
TUSCALOOSA, Alabama (CNN) -- Texas Gov. George W. Bush resumed his presidential campaign Friday following the execution of convicted murderer Gary Graham, and enduring a week as the target of anti-death penalty protests.
Protesters criticized Bush, who has interceded only once in his tenure to postpone an execution, throughout a campaign swing along the West Coast this week and outside the governor's mansion on Thursday in Austin as Graham's execution drew near.
Texas' Death Row is the nation's most active, with 135 executions having taken place since Bush took office less than six years ago.
Bush picks up his presidential campaign with an appearance in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, Friday afternoon to discuss his Social Security proposals. But with at least 15 more inmates slated to die by lethal injection at Huntsville before the November election, the issue is all but certain to follow Bush throughout the campaign.
Demonstrators chanted "George Bush, murderer" outside the prison as the execution got under way Thursday night. Six were arrested after they briefly broke through police lines.
On Friday, Bush shrugged off the demonstrations and criticism surrounding Graham's execution.
"There have been some cases that are very high profile," he said. "This case happens to be one of them, and my job is to enforce the law, which I intend to continue to do."
Though a majority of Americans favor the death penalty, there are increasing concerns about the certainty of many an inmate's guilt. Graham's conviction in the 1981 killing of an Arizona man outside a Houston supermarket was questioned because it relied on the testimony of a single eyewitness.
The issue is also an uncomfortable one for Vice President Al Gore, a supporter of the death penalty. The Rev. Jesse Jackson, a longtime Democratic leader who witnessed Thursday's execution at Graham's request, condemned "the action of George Bush and the silence of Al Gore" after Graham was put to death.
Gore said he was troubled by the possibility of an innocent man's execution, but said the matter was "in the hands of the governors and the various state legislatures."
Gore cited the case of Illinois, where Republican Gov. George Ryan suspended executions after more than a dozen inmates were proven innocent of the crimes for which they were condemned.
'A keyhole into his character'
Bush has been criticized for sounding flippant when discussing Texas justice. He mocked the clemency pleas of executed murderer Karla Faye Tucker in a 1999 magazine interview, and has refused to concede the possibility of error in the cases of those already put to death during his two terms as governor. Bush also was criticized for laughing during a televised debate when asked about a pending execution.
"It's the question of basic brainpower but also the question of basic humanity and depth of feeling," said Benjamin Page, a political science professor at Northwestern University. "This issue is a keyhole into his character."
But Bush has discussed the Graham case in a solemn fashion throughout the week. After the execution, he said the condemned "had full and fair access to state and federal courts, including the United States Supreme Court."
"After considering all the facts, I am confident justice is being done. May
God bless the victims of these crimes, their families and Mr. Graham," Bush said.
Bush's supporters decried the politicization of the issue.
"I think it is very disappointing. Whenever you talk about the justice system, politics should be as far as imaginable from the outcome," said Arkansas GOP Rep. Asa Hutchinson.
Hutchinson said Bush has handled the issue well, adding, "It's fair to debate the merits of the death penalty during a political campaign."
And Bush said he understood "there are good people who oppose the death penalty. I have heard their message and I respect their heart-felt point of view."
Graham's conviction withstood 19 years of appeals, though advocates said his original lawyer failed to introduce witnesses that contradicted the prosecution case. Graham, who adopted the African name Shaka Sankofa while in prison, proclaimed his innocence until the end. He had to be subdued by guards and carried into the execution room Thursday night.