Rick Perry, the Willingham case and the death penalty. Cameron Todd Willingham was convicted of murder and executed in Texas in February 2004. It was a grisly crime; Willingham’s three daughters died in what was supposedly a fire started by arson in 1991. Rick Perry, the man who would be President, was the governor then as he is now. Although Perry has signed 234 death warrants (more than any other governor), this case stands out. It seems that many believe Willingham should not have been convicted, let alone executed, due to less than perfect arson scientific analysis – what some call “junk science”.
The Texas Forensic Science Commission was set to investigate the matter when Perry intervened two days before the body would hear expert testimony criticizing the handling of Willingham’s case. Not only did Perry replace Chairman Sam Bassett and the other three members, the Texas Attorney General has since limited the commission’s authority through a July ruling.
“At first, when I was replaced, I gave the governor the benefit of the doubt. But now that time has passed, I’ve seen this kind of endless drumbeat of strategies and actions to stop this investigation, and it’s been terribly disappointing,” said Bassett.
Perry and his campaign aides deny Bassett’s accusations claiming that Willingham was a “monster” who murdered his three children. Read more about this in Matt Smith’s and Ed Lavandera’s article at CNN Politics. Read more about Rick Perry and his embrace of the death penalty at The Crime Report (Bill Boyarsky).
The reconstituted Commission is set to meet next month to further examine the Willingham case and to begin a review of other cases that contain arson evidence. See Brandi Grissom’s article in The Texas Tribune. The Innocence Project asked commissioners to evaluate the actions of the Texas Fire Marshal’s Office. Stay tuned and remember – only in Texas!
The State of Georgia vs. Troy Davis. Troy Davis is due to be executed in Georgia on September 21. The case has garnered nationwide attention because of allegations that the case against Davis is, at best, seriously flawed. Not only have seven of nine eyewitnesses recanted, but no physical evidence exists to tie the convicted man to the case, although there is evidence of another perpetrator. Davis has served 20 years on death row for the 1989 murder of a Savannah police officer and continues to declare his innocence.
Three thousand religious leaders from the 50 states have asked the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles to halt the execution to investigate this case further. Learn how you can help at Forbes (E. D. Kain, Contributor). The Board will meet on Monday to decide Davis’ fate and The Innocence Project encourages those interested to respond. We will keep you updated. Learn more by reading Emily Hauser’s piece in The Atlantic.
High Court halts another Texas execution.
MSNBC is reporting that the United States Supreme Court on September 15 halted the execution of Duane Buck by the State of Texas. There apparently is no question as to Buck’s guilt – he committed the double murder of his former girlfriend and her companion 16 years ago. He was arrested at the scene of the crime in an agitated state and there were several reliable eyewitnesses including his two children. The problem with this case is the validity of the sentence.
Buck’s attorneys allege that his case was “tainted by consideration of race” when a psychologist publicly testified that black criminals (Buck is black) were more likely to recommit violent acts in the future. The jury must consider the likelihood that the accused will be a continuing threat to society during its sentencing deliberations. We will keep you abreast of new developments.