TX Gov: Rick Perry Covering Up Execution of Innocent Man in 2004

A little less than a month ago the New Yorker published a major piece making a strong case that the state of Texas executed an indisputably innocent man in 2004.

Cameron Todd Willingham was killed by the state for killing his children in a fire. Yet the best scientific analysis conclusively establishes that the fire was accidental and not caused by arson.

Texas Governor Rick Perry, going into a heated primary campaign against Senator Kay Bailey Hutchinson, has now suddenly and summarily replaced three board members of the state agency investigating the controversial 2004 execution, indefinitely postponing a hearing into the case. The Burnt Orange Report has excellent coverage here and here.

The conservative editorial board of the Dallas Morning News outlines the case in very stark terms:

Gov. Rick Perry looks like a desperate man with his decision to jettison the chairman of the state's forensic science panel.

The panel's post-mortem look at the Cameron Todd Willingham arson-murder case goes to the heart of Texas justice - including the governor's role in it - and whether an innocent man was railroaded into the death chamber at Huntsville.

Since Perry signed off on the Willingham execution in 2004, his own accountability is at stake. So perhaps it's no surprise that two days before the Texas Forensic Science Commission was to proceed with the case this week, Perry replaced the chairman and set things back.

Glenn Smith argues that Perry is in violation of federal law:

He may have violated federal law,  U.S.C. 18.1001. This is no trivial matter. An innocent man was executed. Federal laws and guidelines are in place to keep that from happening. Perry may well have violated those laws and guidelines, for which there are criminal penalties.

Media Matters sums it up:

This is all, at the very least, quite fishy. It's also potentially earth-shaking -- never before has it been conclusively determined that someone in this country was wrongfully put to death. If Cameron Todd Willingham's innocence can be proven, it would upend the entire rationale behind our system of capital punishment. And yet there hasn't been a whole lot of media coverage - a Nexis search of all news sources for the past two days for (cameron w/2 willingham and perry) turned up seven results.

This could be the beginning of the end for not only one of the most reactionary governors in the country but for the death penalty itself.

Tags: Cameron Todd Willingham, death penalty, Rick Perry, tx gov, wrongful execution (all tags)

Comments

4 Comments

I read that article

It was heartbreaking. It should be required reading for every arson investigator in the country.

by desmoinesdem 2009-10-02 01:07PM | 0 recs
Re: TX Gov: Rick Perry Covering Up

The argument that Perry violated federal law is a big-time stretch.

I have no doubt whatsoever that Perry is trying to forestall what could be a very embarrassing investigation for him and his political career, but let's be a little real about this.  The term of these panel members had expired.  The Governor has the legal right to reappoint them to another term or replace them.  There cannot be a serious argument that he was required to reappoint them or else violate federal law.

I wouldn't criticize TN for saying that Perry "fired" the panel members because I think that's an accurate characterization of what really did happen, but I think it's important to be precise about the facts because if you read this post and you're like, "Perry fired three panel members to cover up the execution of an innocent man!" and your wingnut friend is like, "BS, he didn't fire them, their term had expired," you might not have any idea what to say unless you understand the full story.  So we need to be careful about speaking in shorthand when we're educating each other about these things.

by Steve M 2009-10-02 01:20PM | 0 recs
Re: TX Gov: Rick Perry Covering Up

good feed back on my misuse of the term "fired" it's been fixed.
You should really read Smith's whole piece rather than dismissing his argument from one paragraph. Here's a bigger chunk of it to chew on:

   § 1001. Statements or entries generally

   (a) Except as otherwise provided in this section, whoever, in any matter within the jurisdiction of the executive, legislative, or judicial branch of the Government of the United States, knowingly and willfully--
    (1) falsifies, conceals, or covers up by any trick, scheme, or device a material fact;
    (2) makes any materially false, fictitious, or fraudulent statement or representation; or
    (3) makes or uses any false writing or document knowing the same to contain any materially false, fictitious, or fraudulent statement or entry;
    shall be fined under this title, imprisoned not more than 5 years or, if the offense involves international or domestic terrorism (as defined in section 2331), imprisoned not more than 8 years, or both. If the matter relates to an offense under chapter 109A, 109B, 110, or 117, or section 1591, then the term of imprisonment imposed under this section shall be not more than 8 years.

Doesn't the language seem like it was written with Rick Perry in mind:  "falsifies, conceals, or covers up by any trick, scheme, or device a material fact"? But there's even more to it than that.

Texas receives millions of dollars in crime-fighting money from the Coverdell Forensic Science Improvement Grants Program of the U.S. Justice Department. To receive that money, Texas had to create the Texas Forensic Science Commission. The applying and receiving agencies, including the governor,  certify that an independent, external agency exists that will investigate "negligence or misconduct substantially affecting the integrity of forensic results."

Now, read this special note attached to the Justice Department's application guidelines, because they specifically invoke U.S.C. 18.1001 cited above:

   Note: In making this certification, the certifying official is certifying that these requirements are satisfied not only with respect to the applicant itself but also with respect to each entity that will receive a portion of the grant amount. Certifying officials are advised that: (1) a false statement in the certification or in the grant application that it supports may be subject to criminal prosecution, including under 18 U.S.C. § 1001, and (2) Office of Justice Programs grants, including certifications provided in connection with such grants, are subject to review by the Office of Justice Programs and/or by the Department of Justice's Office of the Inspector General.

In other words, the United States Justice Department tells its Coverdell Grant recipients that they'd better have an independent forensics agency of the highest integrity, and they'd better not falsify, conceal, or cover up by any trick, scheme, or device a material fact.

If firing three members of the commission and bringing to a screaming halt an investigation and hearing about the execution of an innocent man is not a trick to cover up material facts, nothing is

by Texas Nate 2009-10-02 01:46PM | 0 recs
Re: TX Gov: Rick Perry Covering Up

I did read the whole thing, more than once.  I just cannot imagine any court accepting the argument that it was a violation of federal law for Perry to fail to reappoint the panel members to an additional term.  I think it is not even a close question.

by Steve M 2009-10-02 01:55PM | 0 recs

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