The swirling force of Texas politics

Perry Accused of Stalling Investigation into Wrongful Execution

By Frank Heinz
|  Friday, Oct 2, 2009  |  Updated 1:00 PM CDT
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Perry Accused of Stalling Investigation into Wrongful Execution

Taylor Jones/Getty Images

Texas Gov. Rick Perry.

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Gov. Rick Perry is under fire for replacing three members of the Texas Forensic Science Commission during a "crucial point" in the investigation into evidence that may have led to the execution of an innocent man, CNN reports.

Cameron Todd Willingham was executed in 2004 after prosecutors said he intentionally set a fire in Corsicana that killed his three daughters.  In 2008, the TFSC began looking into the evidence used to convict Willingham.

Fire expert Craig Beyler issued a report in August that said arson was not the cause of the fire and that the ruling of arson could not have been sustained by modern science or science in 1991. The first report was the first commissioned by the Texas Forensic Science Commission.

Beyler was to present his findings to the commission Friday. That presentation has been postponed indefinitely with the change of guard.

Perry told reporters that he thought people were making too much of the appointment changes and added that it was "pretty normal protocol" as the terms of the commissioners, Alan Levy, Aliece Watts and chairman Sam Bassett, had expired.

Levy, said he had asked to remain on the commission, but received no response from the governor's office. Sam Bassett, the panel's former chairman, said he also asked to remain, CNN reported.

With Perry facing a tough Republican primary against Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, news that he may have refused a stay of execution for an innocent man could hurt his campaign for reelection. Perry said he remains confident in Willingham's guilt, as do prosecutors in Corsicana.

Members of Willingham's family and The Innocence Project, a group that seeks to use modern science to clear convictions of innocent people, were disappointed in the governors appointments.

"Rather than let this important hearing go forward and the report be heard, the governor fires the independent chairman and two other members of this commission," Innocence Project co-founder Barry Scheck told CNN. "It's like Nixon firing Archibald Cox to avoid turning over the Watergate tapes."

Perry replaced Basett with John Bradley, the district attorney of Williamson County, who told CNN that he would "approach the job very methodically," and said he did not know when the Beyler hearing would be rescheduled. But he dismissed claims that his appointment was meant to stall the Willingham investigation.

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