Texas Gov. Could Face Criminal Charges for Interfering with Death Penalty Review

Gov. Rick Perry (R-TX) is facing questions about his responsibility for wrongfully executing Cameron Todd Willingham, convicted of arson for a fire that killed his daughters, despite new expert analysis showing there was in fact zero evidence of arson. An investigation into the execution has already found that Perry was given the new evidence to review —which should have shown him that all the evidence of guilt was actually scientifically unfounded testimony— but chose not to stay the execution pending review of the trial process and evidence.

When the investigation began looking into Gov. Perry’s review of the process, what he knew and when he knew it, he refused to reappoint the sitting chair of the commission and replaced him and two other members with conservatives sympathetic to his point of view. The new commissioner has canceled testimony from a leading arson expert that would discredit the case used to execute Willingham.

Gov. Perry is locked in a serious challenge within his own party from Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, who says his politicization of the death penalty has put the entire system at risk. There are also mounting concerns the governor in fact saw the new evidence and even received a direct communication from Willingham’s lawyer requesting a stay, but deliberately chose to ignore clearly exculpatory evidence for political reasons.

If that is indeed the case, Gov. Perry might face legal consequences for knowingly putting an innocent man to death to further his own political career. That question has not been put forward explicitly by the state’s investigators, and Gov. Perry’s moves to change the makeup of the panel by appointing potential allies are a clear attempt to prevent it from being posed formally, but allegations the governor’s office sought to halt the investigation suggest precisely the possibility he knew he was executing an innocent man and umis worried about the legal and political fallout should his actions be formally investigated.

For his part, Gov. Perry is now aggressively attacking Willingham in the court of public opinion, seeking to make his death seem a welcome end to a reign of terror by calling him a “monster” and saying he beat his wife to force her to have an abortion. Perry hopes to persuade a majority of voters to see him as a man who did his civic duty in putting a murderer to death. But even Republicans are now questioning Perry’s personal responsibility and commitment to the integrity of the system.

Could a governor empowered by law to approve death sentences, but also to halt them before they are enforced, actually face homicide charges, should he be seen to have knowingly executed an innocent man for personal gain? Certainly federal law provides ways such a charge and/or verdict could come to pass — for instance felony murder based on abuse of office, or violating a citizen’s civil rights by denying him his day in court (with the new evidence).

What is perhaps more surprising than that this situation has arisen or that such questions are being raised —this has long been expected to some degree, given the radically pro-death penalty political climate in Texas— is the fact that Gov. Perry appears to have so brazenly and publicly sought to interfere in the process and evince his personal wishes that the matter never be fully reviewed.

The point has many times been made, by both opponents and responsible proponents of capital punishment, that everyone, every citizen and every politician, had the same very real interest in making sure the system never permits an innocent person anywhere near death row. Perry, however, seems determined not to take any action that would ensure the integrity of the system.

Either he does not claim and does not want any responsibility over the system, in which case, one imagines he is unfit to serve at the top of it, or he has taken it upon himself to impede the progress of justice, conceal evidence and unilaterally assert the reliability of a process, while refusing to use its last true humane tool to scrutinize the process and side with justice, in which case…

It gets easier to see over time why Perry wants the investigation halted. He has put far more Americans to death than any living official. And Willingham was not the first case he simply shrugged off as settled and in no need of review. How many of those cases will suddenly become suspect, if 1) Willingham is formally found innocent and 2) evidence emerges that the governor ignored exculpatory evidence and executed an innocent man, not just as a result of a travesty of justice but with specific personal political and professional gain in mind? In how many of those cases did Perry consciously or even explicitly consider personal political benefit as tied to ending a human life?

Opponents of the death penalty already smell blood in the water and are beginning to view Perry as easy prey. If they can show that the single most prolific executioner in the United States ignored evidence, gamed the system and put people to death banking on the political benefits of having done so, it will breathe new life into the abolitionist movement. Perry must fight not only that political battle, but also the perception that his attempt to end the investigation might be a criminal coverup.



on “Texas Gov. Could Face Criminal Charges for Interfering with Death Penalty Review
2 Comments on “Texas Gov. Could Face Criminal Charges for Interfering with Death Penalty Review
  1. How ridiculous.

    The Court of Criminal Appeals, the 5th Circuit and the US Supreme Court all rejected this “new evidence”, just as Perry did.

  2. Gov. Perry’s replacement of the Forensics Science Commission (FSC) members hurt him politically. He knew it would, yet he did it anyway. Why?

    The ridiculous speculation, that such was part of a cover-up to hide the evidence of an innocent executed, Cameron Todd Willingham, was humorous.

    Perry’s actions, brought more light, more suspicion and more outrage to a case that was, already, fully exposed.

    Politicians don’t, usually, make decisions like this, intentionally inflicting harm to themselves, particularly in such a closely contested battle, as Perry has with Sen. Hutchison. Yes, politicians and their advisors can be unbelievably stupid, but bear with me.

    Perry’s silly explanation that “it was standard policy” to replace those members, rightly, fell on disbelieving ears. Yes, their terms had expired, 9/1, but the timing of the removals, 9/31, two days before the formal FSC hearing on this case, was explosive, just as Perry knew it would be.

    Perry’s response to gubernatorial political opponent Sen. Hutchison’s criticism was telling “She doesn’t have all the facts.”

    Perry publicly admitted that the reasons for replacing the members was not business as usual. He contradicted himself. Few noticed.

    First, the charge, true or false, that Perry is covering up his malfeasance in an innocent person being executed, is not a charge that Perry can avoid and just hope it goes away. Citizens are outraged by political cover ups, even more so if it concerns an innocent citizen being killed.

    For Perry’s political enemies, as well as the media and anti death penalty folks (very often the same), there is blood in the water and they will not allow this to fade away – nor should they.

    Secondly, in the midst of a battle for Perry’s political life, the accusations are too damning and important not to be resolved, quickly and thoroughly.

    Thirdly, let’s presume the obvious, most politicians act with self interest, with reelection as a primary goal.

    Enter Perry. He knew that his replacement of the 4 Commission members would be a huge pile of manure in his campaign and would remain a major negative throughout the campaign. Therefore, he had to have known that there was a positive that was going to arise out of this short term disaster, a flower growing out of that manure, if you will. He wouldn’t have replaced those 4 members, unless there was something to serve his self interest, that would, better sooner than later, BENEFIT his campaign.

    NOTE: As one reporter speculated: “Dudley, you may be giving Perry’s advisors too much high IQ credit.” Point taken.

    Here is my speculation as to why all of this happened.

    (1) The brief and incomplete Corsicana Fire Department report (CFDR) to the Beyler report (BR), certainly, offers a clue. It blasted the BR on some obvious and important points, making over a hundred comments and corrections to Beyler’s 19 page review of the Willingham case.

    It made a decent case that Beyler’s report is both inaccurate and biased. (A)

    The CFDR noted that it was very limited by time and other constraints. With the hearing delay, those time constraints have now been lifted. Likely, that will mean more criticism of the BR and a more thorough review of all the case evidence for the CFDR.

    Even a curious layman could some real problems in the BR. Any media folks interested in investigative journalism would have seen it as well. Apparently, none did. Hint. Read the incomplete CFDR, released Oct.3rd.

    2) The evidence is that the pending Texas Fire Marshall’s (TFM) report, which is another formal part of this review process, is, also, going to be critical of the BR.

    We know that because the TFM’s office has stated that they are standing by their deceased expert’s, Vasquez’s, report (A1).

    The BR laid waste to Vasquez’s report. Therefore, we already know what the TFM Report is going to do – lay waste to the BR.

    I’ve seen none in the media mention this obvious fact.

    3) Based upon the probability that Perry or his advisors either read or knew what was in either or both of the TFM and CFD reports, as well making their own critical review of Beyler’s report, prior to 9/31, it becomes understandable why Perry replaced the Commission members.

    Perry’s, likely, assessment was, “wait a minute, the Beyler report is so biased, so filled with inaccuracies, why didn’t the committee members request a more balanced report, prior to the hearing? They would be fools, idiots or worse not to.”

    In addition, I don’t think anyone can underestimate the effects of political paranoia, which run deep in such campaigns.

    4) It appears likely that there may be factors regarding the TFSC that we are, currently, unaware of as, specifically, suggested by Perry’s response to Hutchison. “She doesn’t have all the facts.”

    If she doesn’t have them, we don’t either.

    In such a circumstance, any Governor, concerned with a fair evaluation of the government’s business, might feel the need to make changes.

    Yes, I might be wrong, but it certainly makes more sense than to cover up what can’t be covered up, to sabotage your own campaign when you cannot afford to.

    Depending upon their schedules, can’t the 4 new commission members get up to speed within 4-8 weeks, meaning a new FSC hearing can, responsibly, be held in December or January?

    (A) 1. EXCLUSIVE: City report on arson probe:
    State panel asks for city response in Willingham case

    (A)2. No Doubts


    The New Yorker

    “Cameron Todd Willingham: Media Meltdown & the Death Penalty:
    “Trial by Fire: Did Texas execute an innocent man?”, by David Grann, New Yorker


    As more reality comes to light, the more into disrepute run’s Grann’s article.

    My article was written and released prior to the Corsicana Fire Marshall’s report.

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