Texas Governor Rick Perry insisted again on Wednesday that the execution of Cameron Todd Willingham was appropriate and that Texas did not, contrary to growing opinion, execute an innocent man. Critics allege that Perry used his political power to stymie an investigation into the case.
Perry stifled a panel reviewing Willingham's execution by abruptly removing three people from the group 48 hours before the review, forcing its cancellation. A fire expert who challenged the arson investigation and one of the ousted commission members are speaking out.
"Sadly, the political influence which has been exercised with respect to the commission has compromised the integrity of the enterprise," Baltimore fire expert Craig Beyler said in an e-mail to commission coordinator Leigh Tomlin and ousted Chairman Sam Bassett. "He had a personal role in the Willingham case," Beyler wrote. "Under these circumstances, he should have recused himself from making appointments. His failure to recuse himself is both unethical and injurious to the cause of justice."
The ousted head of the review panel says he felt pressured by Gov. Perry's aides to shut down the probe. The Houston Chronicle reports:
Lawyers representing Gov. Rick Perry on two occasions grilled Austin lawyer Sam Bassett on the activities of his Texas Forensic Science Commission, telling him its probe into a controversial Corsicana arson case was inappropriate and opining that the hiring of a nationally known fire expert was a "waste of state money," the ousted commission chairman said Tuesday.
Bassett, who served two two-year terms as commission chairman before Perry replaced him on Sept. 30, said he was so concerned about what he considered "pressure" from the lawyers that he conferred with an aide to state Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, who reassured him "the commission was doing what it's supposed to do."
Basset added that he was told by aides that the group "should be more forward-looking, more current rather than examining older cases."
Perry stood his ground. "Willingham was a monster. He was a guy who murdered his three children, who tried to beat his wife into an abortion so that he wouldn't have those kids. Person after person has stood up and testified to facts of this case that quite frankly you all aren't covering," the governor told the Associated Press on Wednesday.
The Daily Beast takes a look at how Perry's handling of the Willigham affair could be impacting the Governor's chances for reelection -- money quote from Bob Stein of Rice University: "I don't think it's extreme to say it's a fight for the hearts and minds of the Republican Party."