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October 1, 2009

Texas Governor Perry disrupts panel looking into Willingham capital case

This Dallas Morning News story reports on a significant turn of events in Texas, where the guilt of a defendant who was executed by the state five years ago has come to be seriously questioned.  Here are the basics: 

Gov. Rick Perry was blasted Wednesday after he swept three appointees from their jobs just two days before they were set to critically examine a flawed arson investigation that contributed to the execution of a Corsicana man.

The commission was to hear from Baltimore-based Craig Beyler, a nationally recognized fire expert, who had been hired by the panel to review the Cameron Todd Willingham case. Beyler's long-anticipated report, released in August, called the Willingham fire investigation slipshod and based on wives' tales about how fire behaves and possible arson evidence.

Perry said his move was a typical use of his power on appointments, on which he has complete discretion. But Barry Scheck, co-director of the New York-based Innocence Project, compared the move to Richard Nixon during Watergate. "This is like the Saturday night massacre," said Scheck, whose group also reviewed the Willingham case and found it lacking. "Rather than let this important hearing go forward and the report be heard, the governor fires the independent chairman and two other members of this commission. It's like Nixon firing [special prosecutor] Archibald Cox to avoid turning over the Watergate tapes."

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I said on Grits this is like closing the barn door after the horses have gone. A lot more people read the New Yorker piece on Todd Willingham than would ever read the findings of this obscure commission. But now the Governor would put his fingerprints all over efforts to obstruct the official findings - just inexplicable.

Best coverage was from the Fort Worth Star Telegram. A prosecutor kicked off the commission said "I feel like a jilted lover, except that [the Governor is] prettier than I am." The same fellow said, "I felt like a decaying fish they were trying to dispose of [but] .... Since the job doesn't pay anything, I've been thrown out of better places."

Posted by: Gritsforbreakfast | Oct 1, 2009 9:16:33 AM

Funny how conservatives always assert that it's never been proven that an innocent person has been executed when conservatives do all they can to prevent such a determination.

Posted by: dm | Oct 1, 2009 12:29:22 PM

Grits: Nobody ever said Gov. Goodhair is a deep thinker.

Posted by: Ferris Bueller | Oct 1, 2009 2:12:29 PM

For me the bigger issue is whether this was done simply to delay the commission hearing past the March 2, 2010 primary election or whether the new members were chosen to be less "objective" in the result. Or, perhaps both.

Posted by: Shawn | Oct 1, 2009 5:56:32 PM

Having discretionary appointment power means never having to say you're sorry... about executing an innocent man.

Posted by: William O. Rights | Oct 1, 2009 7:32:04 PM

For the relatives who might sue for wrongful death of a loved one. 42 USC Section 1983 and Section 1985 should be consulted and the case annotations thereunder. The Governor is now in on the conspiracy. What? You might say is a conspiracy? Well. The state wrongfully killed a guy. Albeit with Texas version of due process. But the coverup of the killing, and the coverup of who the real killer was, continues. The suppression of the investigation is a mean thing and an act which makes this Governor no longer fit for office. Even in Texas. That state needs to secede, quickly. Rick Perry needs to be deposed, under oath, and before live television on CSPAN. Folks in Texas need to come to grips with their status in the large picture. In terms of human rights: just below Sambia and just above Costra Nostra. Maybe not two countries but maybe two concepts.

Posted by: mpb | Oct 2, 2009 4:18:11 AM

On its face, this move seems unwise politically as well as morally/legally/philosophically. But of course there may be some way that this makes sense in narrow, cynical political terms... I do like the line about being thrown out of better places.

Posted by: Observer | Oct 2, 2009 12:13:37 PM

Oh well, better to execute 10 innocent Texans than to let a guilty one go free.

Indeed, I'll be surprised if Perry's mischief on behalf of the death penalty doesn't give him a boost with the wackos in a primary race with Kay Bailey.

That said, Perry's move doesn't strike me so much as a Texas move as a movement-conservative one. It's not what's moral or right or just that matters; it's what works.

Posted by: John K | Oct 2, 2009 5:57:29 PM

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