Megan McArdle links to a post by Publius of Obsidian Wings on Governor Perry’s recent move to slow the investigation into likely miscarriage of justice (due to a faulty arson investigation) which resulted in the execution of Cameron Todd Willingham. This much-discussed New Yorker article makes a fairly solid case that the evidence that Willingham set fire to his own house (resulting in the death of his three daughters) was far from conclusive. Publius says:
In 2005, after the execution, Texas established a commission to investigate forensic errors, and the commission started reviewing the Willingham case. In the course of its review, the commission hired a nationally recognized fire expert who ultimately wrote a “scathing report” concluding that the arson investigation was a joke.
The expert was originally set to testify about his report on Friday, October 2. On Sept. 30, however, Perry suddenly replaced three members of the panel, including the chair, against their wishes. The new chair promptly canceled the hearing. More recently, Perry replaced a fourth member (he can only appoint four — other state officials appoint the remaining five members).
What’s amazing is not so much that Perry replaced the panel members, but that he felt secure enough to be so brazenly corrupt about it. It’s a sad reflection on the state of politics in Texas that a governor could commit such blatant whitewashing two days before the hearing.
Now, further research reveals that Perry’s move is not totally arbitrary. The terms of the people he removed had already expired on Sept. 1st, so he was within his administrative rights to remove them. However, the timing could not be more damning. There is no reason why he could not have allowed the hearing before seeking new appointments, or simply re-appointed the panel members.
Frankly, this should be straight forward. Even for those who strongly support the death penalty (indeed, perhaps especially for them) citizens should have some assurance that the state takes the use of the death penalty with utter seriousness and takes every possible precaution to avoid a permanent and tragic miscarriage of justice. This was clearly the wrong thing for Gov. Perry to do.