Texas governor replaces panel investigating wrongful execution

Cameron Todd Willingham was executed in Texas in 2004, after being convicted of murdering his family by arson. For the past month, the media and law blogs have been buzzing with news of reports that the junk science that Willingham’s conviction was based on was bogus, and that this is the clearest case of an innocent person being executed by a state.
A panel that was investigating the claims has been replaced by governor Rick Perry, 48 hours before the panel was to hear from arson expert Craig Beyler, who had been retained to assist in the investigation.

Beyler’s report is the latest of three to conclude that arson was not the likely cause of the 1991 fire, and the first commissioned by a state agency. Death penalty opponents say an impartial review of the Willingham case could lead to an unprecedented admission that the state executed an innocent man.
The Beyler report concluded that the ruling of arson at the heart of Willingham’s conviction “could not be sustained” by modern science or the standards of the time. The report, filed in August, said the state fire marshal who testified in Willingham’s trial approached his job with an attitude “more characteristic of mystics or psychics” than with that of a detective who followed scientific standards.
Perry, who faces a Republican primary challenge in his bid for a third term next year, refused to issue a last-minute stay of execution for Willingham in 2004 and has said he remains confident that Willingham was guilty. So have authorities in Corsicana, south of Dallas, who prosecuted Willingham in his daughter’s deaths.

Despite their requests to remain on the panel, the governor says that he is replacing them because their terms are up. Possibly there is no desire to sabotage the investigation on the part of the governor, but this was a critical time in the case to announce the replacements.

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