Texas Governor Perry May Have Put a Lid on Arson Report

Posted by Libby Shaw

Republican Governor Rick Perry

Republican Governor Rick Perry

According to the Houston Chronicle Perry received an arson report from an expert in 2004 but he won’t reveal if he read it before Todd Willingham was executed.

In a letter sent Feb. 14, three days before Willingham was scheduled to die, Perry had been asked to postpone the execution. The condemned man’s attorney argued that the newly obtained expert evidence showed Willingham had not set the house fire that killed his daughters, 2-year-old Amber and 1-year-old twins Karmon and Kameron, two days before Christmas in 1991.

On Feb. 17, the day of the execution, Perry’s office got the five-page faxed report at 4:52 p.m., according to documents the Houston Chronicle obtained in response to a public records request.

But it’s unclear from the records whether he read it that day. Perry’s office has declined to release any of his or his staff’s comments or analysis of the reprieve request.

A statement from Perry spokesman Chris Cutrone, sent to the Chronicle late Friday, said that “given the brevity of (the) report and the general counsel’s familiarity with all the other facts in the case, there was ample time for the general counsel to read and analyze the report and to brief the governor on its content.”

A few minutes after 5 p.m., defense lawyer Walter M. Reaves Jr. said he received word that the governor would not intervene. At 6:20 p.m. Willingham was executed after declaring: “I am an innocent man, convicted of a crime I did not commit.”

Cameron Todd Willingham, executed in Texas

Cameron Todd Willingham, executed in Texas

In the past, as recently as during George W. Bush’s term, gubernatorial reviews were made public. Rick Perry, however, does not believe any of his or his staff reviews should be.

A Forensic Science Commission was about to disclose a report that seriously questions the arson evidence in the Willingham case. But Perry had immediately fired three of the Commission’s members, including the Chairman. The meeting at which the report would have been revealed was canceled.

His 2004 execution gained renewed prominence this year after the newly formed Texas Forensic Science Commission, created by the Legislature to explore and fix forensic flaws, released a report that criticized the arson evidence. Two days before the panel was to review that report, Perry abruptly replaced three members, including the chairman, and the meeting was canceled. The governor also attacked the report, according to other media reports.

The report reveals that the investigators in Willingham’s case made serious errors and had relied on junk science.

The five-page opinion faxed to Perry’s office on Willingham’s execution day in 2004 was the first. It said investigators made “major errors” and relied on discredited techniques akin to an “old wives tale.”

It was authored by Dr. Gerald Hurst, an Austin-based arson expert who holds a doctorate in chemistry from Cambridge University.

By 2004, Hurst already had received national media coverage for helping to obtain a string of high-profile exonerations by debunking arson evidence in other criminal cases. Hurst said in an interview that his previous analysis of flaws in another Texas arson-murder case had helped prompt the Board of Pardons and Paroles in 1998 to free a woman convicted of setting a fire that killed her infant son. She had served six years of a 99-year sentence.

By his actions one can only assume that Governor Rick Perry is attempting to cover up his negligence. Otherwise, he would admit if he did nor or did not read the report. For a man with 20 executions on his watch, one would think Governor Perry should, at the very least, want to know if the state has executed an innocent man. A person’s life is far, far more important than an election outcome.

Please call Rick Perry’s office and demand that he release all reports at 512 463 1782. Please also check Scott Cobb’s post over at the The Burnt Orange Report and Daily Kos. He provides links to a petition and the site to send an email to Perry.

Texas must immediately declare a moratorium on all executions until a complete and thorough review of all procedures on all levels is done by an outside, non-partisan board of experts. One innocent death is one too many.

More @ houstonchroniclelogo


Filed under Crime, Death Penalty, Elections, Law, Partisan Politics, Politics, Republicans, True Crime, Uncategorized, Violence

8 responses to “Texas Governor Perry May Have Put a Lid on Arson Report

  1. audiegrl

    Thanks for posting this Libby. Its just awful.

    To think that a sitting Governor would let a man go to his death, when he knew there was at least, some question of his guilt or innocence, is unforgivable.

    If people want to use the death penalty, which IMHO in some cases is deserved, then they also should be required to go to the fullest extent of evidence proven with forensic technology, to make sure they are not executing an innocent man or woman. If they don’t follow those simple steps, IMO, they are no better than the person they are executing.

    But to do it for political gain? That’s just f’d up.

  2. Common sense says that since Texas executes more people then any other state they must also lead in the most INNOCENT people put to death. I wonder if anyone has studied that aspect.


    • audiegrl

      I didn’t find any figures yet, but this 2003 article should raise the hair up on the back of your neck.

      The Texas Clemency Memos

      As the legal counsel to Texas Governor George W. Bush, Alberto R. Gonzales—now the White House counsel, and widely regarded as a likely future Supreme Court nominee—prepared fifty-seven confidential death-penalty memoranda for Bush’s review. Never before discussed publicly, the memoranda suggest that Gonzales repeatedly failed to apprise Bush of some of the most salient issues in the cases at hand

      I don’t know which is more scary, the picture of George Bush deciding matters of life or death, or the fact that Alberto Gonzoles was considered a future Supreme Court nominee. Yikes. ‘-)

  3. LibbyShaw

    Perry should be reminded that he is not above all laws, although, like a typical Texas Republican, especially the right wing branch of the Party, all seem to believe that laws are for “others.” Right wing Republicans in Texas also profess to be fine, God-fearing Christians.

    Between Perry, W. and Gonzales, there is definitely a pattern. The “God” they worship would be none other than themselves.

  4. Thoughtful article. While some states have placed moratoriums on the death penalty, others simply don’t bother to execute death row inmates (such as California).

    While Texas appears to be tops in executions, you will also find that in some of that same state’s larger, more progressive cities, prosecutors are actively looking into old cases to test DNA, if it exists. Often they are prompted by defense attorneys, but some of these newer prosecutors are more open to the idea of determining who really committed a crime rather than sticking to the guns of their predecessors.

    It’s especially difficult for long-term prosecutors and DA’s to accept the fact that they may have made a mistake. Yes, it costs tax payers to test DNA that was “non-existent” years ago. However, I’d rather my tax dollars be spent on the pursuit of justice rather than for housing and eventually killing an innocent human being.

    So what if the DNA proves a person is not innocent of the crime? If you believe in the death penalty, then you and the jury can sleep well at night knowing a criminal’s sentence was meted out. But when an innocent life is extinguished before all avenues of investigation are exhausted, those who turned the other cheek should be ashamed, but they won’t be. They’ll be ready to stomp on the next poor soul who didn’t get a fair trial or who had an incompetent defense attorney or God forbid, evidence was manufactured (which does happen in the Good Ole US of A, even in Texas, by George).

    What an ugly world we live in. But our judicial system is by far the best in the world, despite its enormous faults. What does that say about us? It says we’re lazy. We’ve allowed the system to get this way. We the people need to get more involved with our state governments to pass bills that are more proactive/interactive than reactive. Step up the education of our police officers, contribute to Backstoppers, do something for your community to say that you’re mad as hell and you’re not gonna take it anymore! Come on. I dare ya.

    • audiegrl

      Hey BlueD, you hit the nail on the head. As a society, we’re lazy, about this topic and many other things. But for this one, our laziness can get an innocent man or woman legally killed by the state.

      Shouldn’t we all be concerned with this case? I mean, if it could happen to Willingham, it sure as hell could happen to one of us.

      The problem is that the groups and lawyers who fight for people on death row, and try to get their cases re-tried and the DNA tested, don’t have any political power. There are no lobbyists in Washington to fight for prison reform. People are making too much money on prisons. Why would they want to change that?

      Whats even more disturbing are the innocent people sent to jail, convicted because they couldn’t afford a decent lawyer or the DA was running for office and needed a conviction for political reasons. Those innocent people, who have now as a means of survival, turned into stone cold killers to survive prison life. In those cases, we are creating killers, and something is really wrong about that.

      As BuellBoy said before, I’m sure Lady Justice just ripped off her blind-fold and said, WTF? 😉

  5. audiegrl

    hey BlueD, that’s right! WTFF? 😉

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