Tennessee Attorney General Robert Cooper takes the brunt of the blame in this week's story
about efforts to keep an ailing and likely innocent man on death row, although the governor certainly hasn’t been spared from criticism for refusing to free Paul House.
Ever since the U.S. Supreme Court declared in 2006 that no reasonable juror would convict House given the exculpatory DNA evidence now available, Gov. Phil Bredesen has refused to use his exclusive authority to end the ongoing legal battle and pardon the inmate, who has advanced multiple sclerosis and can no longer walk or feed himself.
When contacted twice this week by phone about the House case, the governor’s spokeswoman Lydia Lenker responded via email: “This matter is appropriately in the courts. We have no further comment at this time.”
The terse reply is no surprise given the governor’s past apathy on the matter, but to House’s supporters it’s a disappointment nonetheless.
“It’s not like the governor doesn’t know what’s going on,” says Stephen Kissinger, the federal public defender representing House. “Once again, he’s choosing not to do something that would make him appear to be weak on crime or in any way against the death penalty.”
Last summer, nearly three dozen state lawmakers from both parties (about half of whom support capital punishment) wrote a letter to the governor urging him to pardon House, warning that “allowing an innocent man to die in prison would be a shame and a blemish on our state.”
And although Bredesen told the Scene
at the time that he would consider the request, he acknowledged that he expected to let the matter play out in the courts.
As for House’s mother Joyce House she’s lost all faith when it comes to the possibility of the governor stepping in and freeing her son. “He is just too wimpy. He’s not gonna do it,” she says. "He always says he wants to let the courts handle it, but the courts have handled it over and over and over."