Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Henry Lee Lucas: Prolific Serial Killer or Prolific Liar?

Bush's Only Commutation

In 1998, based on a lack of evidence connecting Lucas to the murder and the existence of contradictory evidence, then-Texas Governor George W. Bush commuted Lucas's sentence to life — the only man to receive this during Bush's reign. Seven years later in 2005, in the New York Review of Books, Sister Helen Prejean, author of Dead Man Walking, wrote about Bush's decision. 

Then-Texas Governor George W. Bush
Then-Texas Governor
George W. Bush

She suggested that he had been motivated "more by expediency than conscience," and offered the relevant supporting facts: during his six years a governor of Texas, Bush had presided over 152 executions — more than any other governor in any other state in recent history. He had commuted no other death sentences to life, although there were factors as significant as any that Lucas's attorneys offered. Journalist Alan Berlow apparently discovered that Bush's examination of at least 57 of these cases involved only cursory reviews of brief death penalty memos on the day before a scheduled execution. In one case, Bush had skipped over evidence that the convicted man was mentally retarded and therefore not even eligible for the death penalty.

Lucas in prison
Lucas in prison

Prejean calls the Texas Board of Pardons and Appeals a "farce" that Bush did nothing to reform. Then she writes about Lucas: "In the Henry Lee Lucas case in 1998, Bush showed where the real power lay." He intervened with the board before they had a chance to make a recommendation, and afterward the board approved his decision in a 17 to one vote. 

Prejean points out that it was common knowledge by then that Lucas could not have murdered the woman known as Orange Socks. "Additionally," she writes, "it was clear that Lucas would never be a threat to society because he was already serving six life sentences for other murders, which he may or may not have committed, since on a fairly regular basis he confessed falsely to hundreds of murders. Bush pointed out that jurors at his trial 'did not know' certain facts that later came to light." Thus, he took the opportunity, she claims, to exercise apparent compassion, although in the context of his actual record, his compassion diminishes into mere politics.


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