Applause for Rick Perry's 'Ultimate Justice' at Debate

Texas Gov. Rick Perry apparently loses no sleep over authorizing 234 executions in more than a decade as Texas governor.

Perry has authorized more executions than any governor in the history of the United States. He said at a Republican presidential debate Wednesday that he has never worried that the state of Texas has executed an innocent man.

“I’ve never struggled with that at all.  The state of Texas has a very thoughtful, a very clear process in place,” Perry said.  “When someone commits the most heinous of crimes against our citizens, they get a fair hearing, they go through an appellate process, they go up to the Supreme Court of the United States if that’s required.”

Perry said the death penalty should be dealt with on a state-by-state basis but supports the decision of Texas to uphold the death penalty, calling it the “ultimate justice.”

“In the state of Texas, if you come into our state and you kill one of our children, you kill a police officer, you’re 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.”

When NBC’s Brian Williams asked Perry the question about the death penalty and pointed to the 234 executions – even before Perry answered – the Republican debate crowd erupted in applause for the governor’s actions.  Perry pointed to the applause as indicating a vast majority of Americans supports capital punishment.

The most recent execution authorized by Perry in Texas was in July, when Humberto Leal Garcia, a Mexican national was executed in Texas.  The case became controversial because Garcia was denied access to the Mexican consulate when he was arrested, a right guaranteed by the Vienna Convention and upheld by the Supreme Court.  The Justice Department, Mexico, and the United Nations urged Perry to stay the execution, but he denied the request.

But Perry’s most controversial death penalty case came in 2004 when Cameron Todd Willingham was executed for the murder of his three daughters in a fire that investigators ruled as arson.

While on the death row, scientists developed a report questioning the legitimacy of the evidence used against Willingham. Following Willingham’s execution, the Texas Forensic Commission ordered a re-examination of the case, and Craig Beyler, a fire scientist, examined the evidence and came to the same conclusion as other scientists: no evidence existed to conclude arson was committed.

Just before Beyler was to present his evidence to the commission, Perry replaced the chair of the commission, who cancelled the meeting. The commission’s work was never finalized, leaving many asking whether was an innocent man executed.

ABC News’ 20/20 aired a special on Cameron Todd Willingham in 2010.

The next execution in Texas is scheduled for September 15.

Polls have consistently shown strong support – nearly two thirds of Americans in favor – for capital punishment in the United States.

But some states have reconsidered. In March, Illinois became the 16h state to abolish the death penalty.