Governor Rick Perry does not want you to find out if Texas carried out the execution of a legally and factually innocent person. The Texas governor replaced the head of the Texas Forensic Science Commission just days before he and other experts were scheduled to testify at a hearing called to investigate whether the state killed an innocent man, Cameron T. Willingham.
Politics almost certainly played a role as the Governor is running for the republican nomination in his reelection bid. The maneuvering for a replacement will delay the hearing until after his run for the nomination is over. Keep in mind that the execution of Mr. Willingham took place as on the Governor’s watch.
The execution of Mr. Willingham proceeded despite the so-called safety-net of clemency. A petition for clemency was denied by the Governor after the Texas Parole Commission summarily voted against clemency despite clear and compelling evidence of innocence. In fact, the Commission reportedly made its recommendation admittedly without reviewing any of the exonerating evidence or even meeting for a vote.
The Willingham case was not simply one where his lawyer failed to defend him competently at the criminal trial. Exonerating evidence – good enough for Florida – freed Gerald Lewis from a death row prison in a Florida case remarkably similar to Willingham’s. The same evidence at issue in both the cases involved the unscientific and false conclusions of the arson investigators at the original trials. Although these conclusions were resoundingly refuted by actual science, the Florida process resulted in freedom for Lewis and death for Willingham. Willingham lived in the wrong state.
United States Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia has taunted death penalty opponents to produce a factually innocent person executed in the modern age. Mr. Willingham is likely that man. For an in-depth review of his case, refer the excellent September 7, 2009, New Yorker magazine article, Trial by Fire, by David Grann. No matter what opinion you have of the death penalty, your faith in the Government’s ability to provide due process will certainly be shaken.
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