Johnson used to firmly believe in the merits capital punishment, even for minors. However, he had a change of heart about a decade ago, chiefly after realizing that the bureaucracy was capable of making mistakes that could cost the life of an innocent.
“If you have committed murder, I happen to believe that you should pay for that with your own life.”
December 9, 2000, The Santa Fe New Mexican (Santa Fe, NM)
“I have no plans to render a stay on his execution… Terry Clark committed the crimes that he has been convicted of. I happen to think that's just punishment for him… I will sleep soundly, in regards to Terry Clark. I happen to support the death penalty for individuals who commit these types of crimes.”
August 28, 2001: Johnson, responding to the Associated Press.
Note: Terry Clark who was convicted of kidnapping and raping six-year-old Donita Welch and nine-year-old Dena Lynn Gore. Clark also murdered Gore. Clark was executed by lethal injection on November 6, 2001.
Scott Holleran: You state that “no criminal or terrorist suspect captured by the U.S. should be subject to physical or psychological torture.” On what moral grounds should our government be precluded from using torture to protect our nation from foreign enemies that seek to destroy the United States through subversive terrorist activity?
Gary Johnson: I just think that there’s no end to that. Let’s say we know there’s a bomb ticking, so we have to torture this guy - that’s the argument for the death penalty - but the law that gets written also is public policy which allows us to put someone who’s innocent to death. The basis of our country is that we protect the innocent. Are we going to torture people to prevent nuclear briefcase bombs? It amounts to the ends justify the means.
Scott Holleran: You oppose the death penalty. Why?
Gary Johnson: As governor of New Mexico, I was a bit naïve and I did not think the government made mistakes with regard to the death penalty. I came to realize that they do. I don’t want to put one innocent person to death to punish 99 who are guilty.
August 21, 2011: Interview with Gary Johnson by Scott Holleran