Texas Gov. Rick Perry Sticks His Fingers in His Ears

Friday, October 2nd, 2009

Last August, forensic fire expert Craig Beyler published a report commissioned by the Texas Forensic Science Commission on the case of Cameron Todd Willingham. Willingham was executed in 2004 for setting a fire that killed his three daughters. Beyler’s report was damning. He concluded that there was no evidence Willingham set the fire, or even that the fire was intentional. Beyler wrote that the state fire investigators who testified against Willingham had “poor understandings of fire science,” had a “”predisposition to find arson in his cases,” and their opinions weren’t founded in science but rather were “nothing more than a collection of personal beliefs.”

Beyler was the ninth forensic fire expert to reach the conclusion that there was no evidence Willingham set the fire.

Last month, the New Yorker followed up with an in-depth investigation by David Grann arguing that Willingham was innocent. A national discussion followed over whether Willingham represents the first known innocent person executed in the modern era of capital punishment.

The Forensic Science Commission was supposed to meet today to review Beyler’s report and Willingham’s case. But that isn’t going to happen. Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who signed off on Willingham’s execution, has abruptly replaced three of the commission’s members, forcing the cancellation of today’s meeting. Notably, he replaced the head of the commission—defense attorney Sam Bassett—with John Bradley, a district attorney. Another member Perry replaced, prosecutor Alan Levy, warned Perry’s office weeks ago that replacing members now could disrupt the Willingham investigation.

Perry says the commission members had reached the end of their terms, so their removal was “business as usual.” Those familiar with the commission say reappointments are common, and Perry’s timing is suspicious.

Perry also continues to defend Willingham’s execution. The Associated Press reports that after the Beyler report and New Yorker articles came out, Perry referred to the nine forensic arson experts who criticized the trial testimony of two local fire chiefs as  “supposed experts,” adding that he hadn’t “seen anything that would cause me to think that the decision” to put Willingham to death “was not correct.”

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26 Responses to “Texas Gov. Rick Perry Sticks His Fingers in His Ears”

  1. #1 |  Omar | 

    Are you sure it’s his ears? It’s hard to tell the top end from the bottom?

  2. #2 |  Boyd Durkin | 

    Hopefully (sooner rather than later) the case of an executed innocent man will scream so loud in the public that no amount of ear plugging will work. Not sure if anything will change even then.

  3. #3 |  ktc2 | 

    No matter how many eventually come to light they’ll all be just “isolated incidents”.

    Trust me, no change is coming.

    The crowd wants it’s blood, and doesn’t care if it’s occasionally innocent blood.

  4. #4 |  SJE | 

    Is Steven Hayne also moonlighting in Texas as a fire expert?

  5. #5 |  Steamed McQueen | 

    Yep, business as usual. The state is right. Everyone else is wrong. And if you argue with the state, you just might find yourself being targeted.

    Is this what it has come to? Have we completely abandoned even the pretense of justice in this country?

  6. #6 |  J sub D | 

    Rick Perry thinks he and the justice system are infallible. I ask all Texans to consider that when they vote.

    One could make an honest argument that even though innocents are going to be executed the deterrent effect of capital punishment saves more innocent lives than are lost. Thus capital punisment is a net good.*

    I don’t. But I do make a similar one for mandatory vaccinations of schoolchildren.

    * I don’t see the data conclusively supporting or refuting it.

  7. #7 |  Aresen | 

    J sub D

    I’d rather see mandatory IQ tests for politicians. No one with an IQ below 30 is allowed to run. I realize this would eliminate most incumbents, but it’s a price that will have to be paid.

    *(I know IQ tests are flawed, but so are governments.)

  8. #8 |  Aresen | 

    I wish there really was a god, so that Perry, Hayne, and the rest of that ilk really did have to answer for their actions.

  9. #9 |  Scalia, J | 

    As far as I can tell, mere factual innocence is no reason not to carry out a death sentence.

  10. #10 |  SJE | 

    I think we need to go to a lunch attended by Gov. Perry, get a half-eaten sandwich, and send it to Michael West to match to some murder investigation. Rick Perry might then have different opinions about the “justice” system.

  11. #11 |  Aresen | 

    | SJE | October 2nd, 2009 at 1:39 pm
    I think we need to go to a lunch attended by Gov. Perry, get a half-eaten sandwich, and send it to Michael West to match to some murder investigation. Rick Perry might then have different opinions about the “justice” system.

    OOOHHH! Likes it we does!

  12. #12 |  V-Man | 

    The governor is probably scared as hell that he will be accused of negligent homicide if anything comes to light. Expect him to do anything and everything in his powers to prevent any investigation from going forward.

  13. #13 |  Kristen | 

    Generally the public sees the occassional execution of an innocent person as the price for justice. It’s OK to sacrifice a few productive citizens if the REALLY bad guys are also executed.

    I said in an earlier comment that nothing will change until this stuff starts happening in larger numbers to the people that vehemently support the “justice” system.

  14. #14 |  Edmund Dantes | 

    It makes you wonder can one get past the special immunity if it is shown Perry ignored or didn’t even read the report with these same facts given to him before he signed the Death Warrant?

    Could he actually be culpable for negligent homicide? Could the state parole board or whatever group Bush used as his crutch (I relied on their work – paraphrasing)for his 137 executions is called?

  15. #15 |  SJE | 

    Negligent homicide wouldn’t stick:
    1. Executive privilege can only be overcome if there was very clear evidence of actual wrong doing
    2. You must be careful about criminalizing every mistake or you never get a light shone on the justice system. Look how hard people fight for their reputation or belief in the system.

  16. #16 |  Dave Krueger | 

    Until Willingham is officially declared to be innocent, the idea that he is innocent is just a speculation on the part of a bunch of liberals who would rather coddle criminals, further victimizing the victims, than see justice done. Thank god the determination as to whether the state executed an innocent man is in the unbiased hands of the state who are the only people without a dog in this fight.

    Two key consideration should rule in cases like this. First, why are we defending a guy who is no longer around to defend? I mean, the whole point behind execution is closure, so let’s close it for Christ’s sake. Secondly, if the guy is declared guilty, then the law is satisfied and it’s ok to fry his ass. It has nothing to do with whether he “did it”.

    So what if he didn’t do it? We can’t throw out the death penalty, a way of life in America, just because of one stinkin’ mistake. The state fire inspectors made a good faith effort to pin these deaths on the guy who was executed. So, it turned out there was no evidence that he set the fire, but you have to remember, there’s no solid evidence that says he couldn’t have set the fire, either. Maybe he did, maybe he didn’t but since we executed him, let’s just say he did and get on with life. M’kay?

  17. #17 |  Cynical In CA | 

    An old story, but worth repeating:

    A man who was in court for stealing a horse gets a continuance to hire a lawyer and watches another defendant who killed a man get probation. The first man asks to change his plea, thinking if the killer got probation, he should get off fairly lightly. Instead, he gets two years, and protests that all he did was steal a horse. The judge says: “Sir, there’s some men in this county that need killing; there’s absolutely no horses that need stealing.”


    I guess Todd Willingham needed killing. Good ol’ fashioned Texas justice.

  18. #18 |  Toonhead | 

    Interesting article: Perry cousin slain by officers http://www.theeagle.com/texas/Perry-cousin-slain-by-officers

    Money quote:
    “You always want to give police officers the benefit of the doubt because they’re doing a hard job,” Gossom (family attorney) said. “But I’m having a difficult time — after having been out to the scene and talked to a few witnesses — to figure out why in the world this should have happened.”

  19. #19 |  Helmut O' Hooligan | 

    “Perry referred to the nine forensic arson experts who criticized the trial testimony of two local fire chiefs as “supposed experts,” adding that he hadn’t “seen anything that would cause me to think that the decision” to put Willingham to death ‘was not correct.’ ”

    Really? So Rick Perry thinks that HE is an arson expert, and is thus capable of pushing the execution through. Let me guess Rick, did GOD guide you in making this decision? Is it possible that Gov. Perry just wants to off this guy in the hopes that the media will go away?

    If Texas ever does secede, look for it to become the Iran of the west rather quickly.

  20. #20 |  ZappaCrappa | 

    Nice to know that Republicans aren’t the only ones that turn a blind eye and that truth and justice are just a couple of annoying buzz words. Maybe it’s a Texas thing.

    This is the same guy that wants to use our daughters as lab rats, making a new vaccine mandatory for all female school children….I’m sure that the fact that the drug manufacturer was a large contributor to his election campaign fund had nothing to do with that.

    I live in Texas, it seems that Dallas County prosecutor Craig Watkins, mentioned several times on this site by Mr. Balko, is the only shining beacon we have in common sense in prosecution here.

  21. #21 |  Andrew Williams | 

    …and says “Neener neener neener” until the bad people stop talking and go away.

    Geez, what a douche.

  22. #22 |  Marty | 

    if I was governor, there’d be electric bleachers and free tickets to the football game would be passed out weekly… which is one of the many reasons why I’d never run for office. This delusional bastard should’ve stayed home, too.

  23. #23 |  Judi | 

    Dave, these are a FEW of the very reasons we cannot have a death penalty…period.

  24. #24 |  Whim | 

    George W. Bush was 10x as bad as Governor Rick Perry regarding wrongful convictions.

    At the time when the Shrub was Governor, there was virtually nil funds available from either the state government or the county budgets for indigent defense.

    As a result, there was an astonishingly high conviction rate in capital offenses involving indigent defendents.

    After Bush moved up the Peter Principal Ladder to his level of total incompetence as our President, the State of Texas made reforms in funding for indigent defendents.

    The State of Texas knew they had a problem, but a governor who had sat on his hands for six years (GWBush) had to leave office before reforms were instituted.

    Perry is in a tough re-election fight with GOP Senator Kay Bailey Hutchinson. Hence his likely strong resistance to allow any vetting of whether he approved the execution of an actual innocent man.

  25. #25 |  KeithH | 


  26. #26 |  Mexico | 

    Hell no!