October 6, 2009

From CNN's The Situation. As Randi Kaye asks in her report, "Is Texas Governor Rick Perry, a Republican in a tough re- election fight, trying to cover up the execution of an innocent man on his watch?"

From TPM--Texas Governor Stymieing Panel Probing Flawed Death Penalty Case?:

Even by the standards of Texas's enthusiasm for state-sanctioned killing, this is pretty shocking...

A Texas scientific panel has been looking into possible missteps in a criminal investigation of a 1991 arson case which led to the execution of Cameron Todd Willingham. A recent New Yorker story about the case laid out compelling evidence that Willingham may well have been wrongly put to death.

The panel, the Texas Forensic Science Commission, was scheduled to hear today from a nationally recognized arson expert it had hired, Craig Beyler, who had last month released a report which called the original probe slipshod.

But on Wednesday, Texas governor Rick Perry abruptly removed three members of the commission. In their place, he appointed a new chair with a reputation as a hardline conservative prosecutor, who promptly canceled the hearing at which Beyler was to testify.

Continue reading...

As the TPM article points to, there is a lengthy piece on this at The New Yorker--Trial by Fire: Did Texas execute an innocent man?.

Transcript below the fold.

Meanwhile, a death penalty case also is in the spotlight in Texas right now with the possibility that an innocent man was actually executed. Critics are asking just how far Governor Rick Perry of Texas would go to protect himself politically.

CNN's Randi Kaye digging deeper on a life-and-death story.


RANDI KAYE, CNN NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This is the question: Is Texas Governor Rick Perry, a Republican in a tough re- election fight, trying to cover up the execution of an innocent man on his watch?

SCOTT COBB, TEXAS MORATORIUM NETWORK: This is a clear case of the governor sabotaging a public agency in order to cover up the findings for his own political advantage.

KAYE: Here's what happened Friday morning.

(on camera): The Texas Forensic Science Commission was to suppose to hear the latest finds on what really happened in this small town of Coachella, Texas, nearly 18 years ago in 1991. Still a question, because the original investigator said an arson fire killed three baby girls. It took a jury less than an hour to convict their father of arson homicide.

But since then three forensic investigations found there was no evidence of arson, none.

(voice-over): One of those reports even came before Cameron Todd Willingham was executed. Still, the governor stands by his decision.

Friday, for the first time, the state's own hand-picked expert was to present a scathing report that showed, once again, no evidence of arson.

But 48 hours before the scheduled meeting, Governor Perry stopped the entire process, removing three of the commission members.

RICK PERRY, (R), GOVERNOR OF TEXAS: Those individuals' terms were up, so we replaced them. That's not nothing out of the ordinary there.

KAYE: Governor Perry's critics suggest he's trying to delay and maybe even derail the state's own investigation.

Willingham died by lethal injection after Governor Perry refused to grant him a stay, even though he was presented new evidence the fire was not arson.

Scott Cobb heads a group pushing for a moratorium on executions. Cobb says Perry's move was politically motivated.

COBB: Governor Perry saw the writing on the wall. He moved to cover that up.

KAYE: If the commission had proceeded, the state's final report may have been released just weeks before the governor's primary election. And if it found it was not arson, critics say that would prove Perry is the first governor in history to preside over the death of an innocent man.

COBB: And I think that's what he's afraid of.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SR. LEGAL ANALYST: There really is no excuse for a delay. Here finally, is a case with overwhelming evidence that an innocent man was executed by the state of Texas.

KAYE (on camera): Keeping them honest, we tried to interview governor Perry, but his office said they couldn't make it work. He has said there was overwhelming evidence Willingham was guilty. But one of the investigators, who reviewed the case over the years, called it B.S., bad science.

(voice-over): As for the state's expert, who was supposed to formally deliver findings on Friday, he said the fire marshal, who testified at Willingham's trial, had an attitude characteristic of mystics and psychics.

So will the commission hear this report? Maybe not. Governor Perry's new commission chairman, a political ally, is the man who postponed Friday's hearing indefinitely and told CNN he couldn't begin to guess when it might be rescheduled.

Five years ago, when Cameron Todd Willingham was executed, he said, "I am an innocent man convicted of a crime I did not commit." Governor Rick Perry's future may depend on a dying man's last words.

Randi Kaye, CNN, New York.

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