NOW with Alex Wagner | June 12, 2012
>>> in the state of texas , if you come into our state and you kill one of our children, you kill a police officer , you are 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.
>> that was rick perry during a presidential debate defending his use of the death penalty . no governor has executed more inmates than perry, 243 and counting, in less than 12 years. across the nation, more than 3,000 inmates are sitting on death row . but most of them will remain there. that's because recent trends point to a decline in the number of people being executed. one reason, growing fears about taking the life of an innocent person. joining us now is the governor of connecticut , dan malloy . in april, his state became the fifth state in five years to abolish the death penalty . governor, great to see you.
>> great to be with you.
>> i have a couple questions to get us started. the first is, do you think, the death penalty is a very loaded issue, a lot of contentious debate around it. but given the recent trends, the fact that connecticut is the fifth state in five years to abolish the penalty, did so in april, we know that california's going to be tackling the issue in november. a few other states are bandying it about as well. do you think there's enough national attention on this? i wonder about the fallout since you repealed the death penalty .
>> a couple things. the fallout i experienced was actually when i was running for governor and i said i would sign a bill doing away with the death penalty , and they tried to beat me like a dog on that issue, made the election particularly close because we had a particularly heinous crime that had been committed and those trials were going on in the middle of the election. but listen, i adopted this position way back in the 1980s when i was a prosecutor in new york city . i tried four homicides there, i subsequently tried a homicide as a defense attorney . i made a decision that justice has not been meted out equally. you're far more likely to be sentenced to death if you're a black man or hispanic man who has killed a white person and the same statistical variation doesn't hold for white people killing black or hispanic people . we also know that we've convicted people and put them to death wrongly. the first person to be put to death in connecticut was put to death for being a witch. so connecticut finally joined the other states that have outlawed the death penalty beginning in 1852 , when wisconsin did it, or 1876 , when maine did it. this is a slow-moving trend, i suppose i would say, but nonetheless, it's a trend. you know, i think what we did was the right thing. i will point out to you that usually when you ask the question do you favor death penalty , people say yes, but when you ask them to make a choice between the death penalty and life in prison without the possibility of parole, life without the possibility of parole wins. so it really depends on how you ask the question. you know, i also would point out to you, texas has put a lot of people to death. the united states has put a lot of people to death. about 77 last year. but that puts us in a class of countries like iraq or yemen or china that put 444 people to death last year. that's not necessarily where we want to be. there is a reality that if you wanted to be in the european union , you can't have the death penalty . this is a trend on an international basis which will play itself out for generations to come.
>> governor, i would ask you and also ask the panel, if we talk about the cultural shift around the death penalty , we played that rick perry sound from the debates last year for a reason, which is to say rick perry got applause when he talked about men and women, death row inmates being executed. there's still a certain amount of support for the death penalty and if you look at sort of the national breakdown in terms of the number of executions which is 1,296 since 1976 , it is -- executions are disproportionately happening in the south, specifically in texas. in the south alone there were 1,063 executions. the midwest, 151. the west, 78. northeast, four. we have been talking a lot about swing states and this sort of national political map but i wonder if you did sort of a transparency overlay, how much of those are sort of red states and whether this is an issue that's going to be decided largely along political lines.
>> there's a pretty big overlay if you want to compare on social justice issues. the states that recognize civil union or marriage versus those that have passed constitutional amendments in their own states for banning that. there is an overlay. that's a reality. on the other hand, there's a movement and people -- the united states citizens overwhelmingly are religious people, and most religions practice that there is redemption and there is forgiveness, and so we have this very strange situation where this very religious country, where people self-recognize as being religious, also still supports the death penalty when the precepts of most of those religions don't allow for it.
>> the redemption narrative is fascinating, especially when you talk about the support that exists for life without parole , and yet you still have governors like again, rick perry , who are staunch in their defense of the death penalty . steve, when we talk about other sort of factors that are leading to a decline in executions, i thought it was really interesting that we talk about dna evidence being a big factor but in fact, the leading causes include perjury or false accusations , mistaken eyewitness identification , official misconduct and of course, false forensic evidence .
>> i think there has been a shift in the polling because there's an awareness of how easy it is relatively speaking to make mistakes when it comes to putting somebody on death row . but the flipside of it and the governor alluded to this at the beginning of his comments there, is the one thing that seems to drive public opinion back toward the side of the death penalty and this happened in connecticut , is that case you talked about. in 2007 , in that state where this woman and her two children were held hostage in their house all day, they were brutalized and then ultimately killed. the evidence was clear-cut and overwhelming in those cases about the two men who did it. there is no doubt these two men are guilty. there is no doubt that they ought to be held responsible and i think there's a sense among some people in connecticut , that's what i see in the polling, that yeah, we tend to use this nationally, we tend to use the death penalty too much, there is potential for error, but in those cases like this, there needs to be something. i see that in the polling, in the clear-cut cases, there is still a strong desire among people like that for a death penalty .
>> high profile --
>> we don't want to go to a popular vote over who actually gets put to death , do we?
>> no. i don't think we do, governor. unfortunately, we do have to leave it there. thank you so much for your time, sir. we will follow the death penalty trend as it makes its way across the country and certainly hope to have you back soon. governor dan malloy , thanks a lot.