Site Overlay

Longview News-Journal Editorial: Justice Delayed? Perry’s last-minute board switch is questionable

Justice Delayed? Perry’s last-minute board switch is questionable

Longview News-Journal Editorial Board

October 6, 2009

Gov. Rick Perry’s decision to remove three members of the Texas Forensic Science Commission just before a meeting on whether the state executed an innocent man convicted of the arson-related deaths of his three daughters simply doesn’t pass the smell test. Once again, it appears the governor has put his political interests ahead of what’s best for the state.

The commission was forced to postpone the meeting, in which it would have heard a report from an arson expert hired by the commission to look into the 1991 fire in Corsicana. Todd Willingham was convicted of murder and executed in 2004. He went to his death claiming his innocence, having previously rejected a plea bargain that would have spared him from the needle.

That, of course, on the face of it doesn’t prove anything. The state has executed many people who died claiming they were innocent and almost certainly weren’t, but in Willingham’s case, there is a real possibility that the state indeed executed an innocent man.

The original arson investigator and a now-dead state fire marshal ruled the fire was arson, ignited by a liquid accelerant. Willingham repeatedly tried to go back inside to get his children, according to eyewitnesses. There was no financial motive, since the modest insurance policy on the children named their grandfather as beneficiary.

The arson investigator hired by the commission, Craig Beyler of Baltimore, claims the original finding of arson is not supported by the scientific evidence, a conclusion also reached by an Austin-based investigator. Gov. Perry was in office when Willingham was executed and refused to grant a stay.

The commission certainly has a moral obligation to reopen the evidence and weigh whether the state indeed made a horrible mistake. The governor, by replacing three members of the commission just 48 hours before that hearing, has forced it to be delayed — perhaps past next March’s Republican primary, in which he faces his toughest challenge to date from U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison. Perry claims the members’ terms had expired and this was “business as usual.” Several of these members have served more than one term.

We do think it is business as usual for the governor. That is why it doesn’t pass the smell test.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *