The death penalty's favourite district attorney resigns
HARRIS COUNTY, which encompasses Houston, is the most populous in Texas. Its district attorney is among the most powerful prosecutors in America. During seven years on the job, Chuck Rosenthal earned a ferocious reputation. His office prosecuted hundreds of thousands of cases and asked for the death penalty more often than did any other county in America.
But for such a moralist, Mr Rosenthal had big personal lapses. On February 15th he resigned after weeks of controversy concerning e-mails that included love notes to his secretary and racist jokes. Mr Rosenthal stepped down hours after a rival filed a lawsuit that would have forced him out. “The particular combination of drugs prescribed for me in the past has caused some impairment in my judgment,” he wrote.
Many Houstonians agreed with Mr Rosenthal's assessment of his judgment. Over more than 30 years at the DA's office, he often ran into trouble. He set off firecrackers in a stairwell and endorsed one judge because “she looks great in jeans.” In 2002 he went before the Supreme Court to argue in favour of upholding Texas's ban on gay sex. The eventual ruling, Lawrence v Texas, is considered a landmark for gay rights.
Most troubling was Mr Rosenthal's enthusiasm for the death penalty. He considered it “God's law”, and asked for it whenever possible. His most controversial case came in 2001, when Andrea Yates drowned her five children in her bathtub. She claimed that her children “were doomed to perish in the fires of hell” and was eventually found not guilty by reason of insanity.
Though thwarted in that case, Mr Rosenthal got 36 people sent to death row. Since America resumed the death penalty in 1976, Harris County alone has accounted for a quarter of Texas's executions. Rick Perry, the Republican governor, will probably replace Mr Rosenthal with another judge who supports the death penalty. Almost anyone, however, will be more moderate.
Friday, February 22, 2008
The Economist: America's most vengeful prosecutor - You've got mail
Here is a recent article by the Economist Magazine about former Harris County DA Chuck Rosenthal.