GOP governors rally to Bush's defense on Sunday talk shows

WASHINGTON - Two Republican governors and political allies of George W. Bush said he has not compromised his support of the death penalty by blocking a condemned murderer's execution in Texas so potential DNA evidence can be reviewed.

''I think it was very appropriate that he did it, and I don't think it anyway undermines his commitment to the death penalty,'' GOP Gov. Tom Ridge of Pennsylvania said on ''Fox News Sunday.''

Ridge, being considered as a running mate to Bush, the likely GOP presidential nominee, added, ''At the end of the day we have to be concerned about the administration of justice.''

Last week, Bush blocked an execution for the first time in his career as Texas governor to allow DNA tests, approving a 30-day reprieve for Ricky McGinn.

''Any time DNA evidence used in this context can be relevant as to the guilt or innocence of a person on death row, we need to use it,'' Bush said Thursday. He hoped the review would be done ''expeditiously.''

A Newsweek poll released Saturday showed that six out of 10 Americans think Bush acted only for political reasons.

Bush's likely Democratic opponent, Vice President Al Gore, said last week Bush had a difficult decision but that it should not be viewed in terms of politics.

For Bush, a strong supporter of the death penalty, the reprieve could be perceived as allowing him to soften an image and attract more moderate voters.

Bush also received support Sunday from Oklahoma's Frank Keating, another potential vice presidential contender.

''Every one of us, police officers, prosecutors, presidents and governors, if we're responsible and moral, want to make sure the guilty and the guilty alone are executed or imprisoned,'' Keating said on CBS' ''Face the Nation.''

Meantime, Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., tried to make the case for his ''Innocence Protection Act.'' It seeks stronger guarantees of adequate legal help for capital defendants. The measure also provides for DNA testing of inmates who seek to prove they did not commit the underlying crime for which they were condemned.

One opponent, GOP Rep. Bob Barr, R-Ga., said death penalty foes are looking for ''the holy grail'' with DNA testing.

''You're looking for perfection and you're not going to find perfection,'' he said.

But Illinois Gov. George Ryan said perfection is what he wants from his state's death penalty system or there will not be any more executions while he is governor.

Ryan, a death penalty supporter, started the current national debate by ordering a moratorium on executions while Illinois's death penalty procedures are examined for fairness. Since 1987, the state has released 13 from death row after their convictions were overturned.

''We need to have 100 percent accuracy or I don't want any part of the system,'' Ryan said on ABC's ''This Week.''


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