In December, when a mentally ill Texas man convicted of murder was poised to be executed -- and a number of prominent conservatives were calling to postpone the killing -- Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) declined to criticize the pending execution. "I trust the criminal-justice system to operate, to protect the rights of the accused, and to administer justice to violent criminals," Cruz declared. This was not shocking. As a politician and public officeholder, he has long supported capital punishment. While running for Senate in 2012, Cruz repeatedly mentioned his win as Texas solicitor general in a case before the Supreme Court that preserved the death penalty for a Mexican citizen convicted of raping and murdering two Houston teenage girls.
Yet as a lawyer in private practice two years earlier, Cruz had argued that the criminal-justice system, in at least one instance, had gone awry and nearly killed the wrong man. This happened when Cruz was assisting the case of a Louisiana man wrongfully convicted of robbery and murder who spent 18 years in prison -- 14 of them on death row -- before being freed. As an attorney for this man, Cruz argued that local prosecutors could not be trusted, that institutional failures in the justice system had nearly led to his client's execution, and that this fellow was owed $14 million in restitution because of these miscarriages of justice. But after his experience in this dramatic case -- which included coauthoring a passionate brief presented to the Supreme Court -- Cruz the politician would still offer a full-throated endorsement of the criminal-justice system and capital punishment.
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