Added to this whole episode are charges of a possible cover-up by Perry who replaced three members, including the chairman, of a state panel -- formed to examine the results of the initial arson investigation which led to Willingham's murder charge -- just days in advance of the release of a report of the panel's findings at a scheduled public hearing. One of the first moves made by the panel's new Chairman, John Bradley , was to cancel the hearing.
What is known is that Dr. Gerald Hurst, an Austin scientist and fire investigator, had reviewed the case and concluded there was "no evidence of arson," a finding that mirrored those reached by other independent fire investigators. Furthermore, Craig Beyler, chairman of the International Association of Fire Safety Science, in a n analysis funded by the Texas Forensic Science Commission, found that the state's investigators basically ignored scientific methods for analyzing fires described in NFPA 921, Guide for Fire and Explosion Investigations, relying instead on "folklore" and "myths."
Yet, according to Wikipedia's account of the events:
Governor Perry refused to grant a stay of execution, saying through a spokesperson that "The Governor made his decision based on the facts of the case." Governor Perry said that the "supposed experts" (using finger quotes) were wrong and not to listen to anti-death penalty "propaganda". Perry aide Mary Anne Wiley said the commission's $30,000 hiring of fire scientist Craig Beyler was a waste of taxpayer money. ... one of the prosecutors, admitted that an "undeniably flawed forensic report" was used to convict Willingham, but claimed that other reasons established guilt.
Unfortunately, there are other Texans whose convictions and subsequent death sentences during Rick Perry's watch rest on similar "rickety" grounds including that of Larry Ray Swearingen, whose 1998 murder conviction is currently being challenged after it was discovered that Swearingen was in a county lock-up at the time of the murder. Swearingen's conviction was also based of disputed forensic evidence.
Another case that might rank as among the most egregiously obscene examples of overzealousness by Texas authorities would be that of Duane Edward Buck. Although Buck's murder conviction is not in dispute, he nevertheless wound up with a death sentence handed down largely on the basis of his race. During the sentencing phase of Buck's 1995 conviction, an "expert" witness for the prosecution, former chief psychologist for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, Walter Quijano, testified that Buck's race was cause for "increased likelihood of future dangerousness" and therefore warrants his execution.
Buck is African-American.
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