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Dallas Morning News Editorial: Rick Perry’s actions increasingly suspect in Todd Willingham case

Editorial: Perry’s actions increasingly suspect in Willingham case | News for Dallas, Texas | Dallas Morning News | Opinion: Editorials

Gov. Rick Perry’s Saturday night massacre of the Texas Forensic Science Commission has extended into Sunday and beyond.

When the governor abruptly unseated three commission members, including the chairman, he derailed a hearing about a flawed arson investigation that led to an execution. Little more than a week later, the governor has replaced a fourth member of the forensic science panel.

The commission is examining the arson-murder case of Cameron Todd Willingham, who was sent to his death in 2004. Fire science experts have emphatically rebuked the arson investigation, but the governor has attempted to plug his ears and push aside accumulating evidence that Texas might have executed an innocent man on his watch.Perry has insisted that this was standard operating procedure, all part of the regular cycle of appointments. But troubling comments from the deposed chairman suggest that the governor’s efforts to change the course of this inquiry began months ago.

Samuel Bassett, who was replaced as chairman two weeks ago, said the governor’s aides pressured him as they expressed displeasure with the investigation, questioned the cost of the inquiry and even hinted that the commission’s funding could be in jeopardy.

Although Perry has dismissed suggestions that he’s meddling, the governor’s fingerprints are all over the forensic science panel’s inquiry.

Fortunately, he might not have any more dirty tricks up his sleeve. The governor appoints only four of the commission’s nine members, so Perry has run out of people to replace.

The question now is whether he will allow the commission to proceed with its work on the Willingham case. If the commission – and Perry – are to have credibility on this issue, the governor must send the clear message that the inquiry should move forward apace.

Then the governor must back off.

No more closed-door meetings with Perry aides and commission members. No more not-so-subtle suggestions about the direction of the investigation. No more sarcastic remarks from Perry about “supposed experts.”

Perry has overstepped in his attempts to delay or quash this important inquiry. Unless he adopts a hands-off approach, his motives and the commission’s work will be suspect.

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