Looks like Texas’s Republican Governnor Rick Perry is digging a deeper hole for himself.
The Houston Chronicle adds some more details about how Perry disregarded doubts of Willingham’s guilt. Three days before the execution, Willingham’s attorney alerted Perry of a new arson analysis that cast doubt on the conviction. The ultimate analysis came from a respected arson expert, Dr. Gerald Hurst, who helped exonerate prior death row inmates.
According to the Chronicle, the five-page Hurst report was faxed to Perry at 4:52 PM. A “few minutes after” 5:00, Perry’s office said he would not intervene. They probably didn’t even read it. The execution occurred about an hour later.
Perry is clearly trying to cover his tracks now. As I wrote about two weeks ago, members of the Texas Forensic Science Commission were dismissed by Governor Perry, literally on the eve of the day when they were to receive a damning report from an arson expert. The report conclusively stated that Willingham was innocent, and the arson evidence on which he was solely convicted (and eventually executed) was horrible. The Chicago Tribune adds more:
Just months before the controversial removal of three members of a state commission investigating the forensics that led to a Texas man’s 2004 execution, top aides to Gov. Rick Perry tried to pressure the chairman of the panel over the direction of the inquiry, the chairman has told the Tribune.
Samuel Bassett, whom Perry replaced on the Texas Forensic Science Commission two weeks ago, said he twice was called to meetings with Perry’s top attorneys. At one of those meetings, Bassett said he was told they were unhappy with the course of the commission’s investigation.
“I was surprised that they were involving themselves in the commission’s decision-making,” Bassett said. “I did feel some pressure from them, yes. There’s no question about that.”
Not good at all.
UPDATE: Sam Bassett, the former chair of the Texas Forensic Science Commission, has now told the Houston Chronicle that lawyers for Perry told him the case was inappropriate, and that the hiring of a nationally known fire expert was a “waste of state money.”