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Perry fills out rest of Forensic Science commission

Sam Bassett, the now-former Chair of the Texas Forensic Science Commission whom Rick Perry abruptly replaced with Williamson County DA John Bradley, wasn’t the only member of the Commission that got the ax, but his was the only slot that was immediately filled. On Friday, Governor Perry named the replacements for the other Commissioners whose terms had expired.

Named to the nine-member panel were Lance Evans, a Fort Worth criminal defense lawyer, and Randall Frost, head of the Bexar County Medical Examiner’s Office in San Antonio.

The pair joins Perry’s earlier appointments, Williamson County District Attorney John Bradley and Norma Farley, chief pathologist for Cameron and Hidalgo counties, who were named to the panel on Sept. 30 — just two days before the commission was to hear testimony in an arson case that resulted in a man’s execution.

Legislation creating the commission empowers Perry to name four members, one of whom must be selected from a list submitted by a defense lawyer’s association. The remaining commission members are appointed by the lieutenant governor and attorney general.

Terms for Perry’s new appointees will expire on Sept. 1, 2011.

All right then. Bradley now has a complete team to work with, so that’s one fewer excuse for not rescheduling that meeting and for not meeting other obligations. The clock is officially ticking. Will Bradley take action before he has to explain himself to Sen. Whitmire, or will he spend that time working on his next batch of excuses? Stay tuned.

UPDATE: I had missed this when I first published, but it sure explains a lot about why Rick Perry wants to make the whole thing go away.

Just 88 minutes before the February 2004 execution of Cameron Todd Willingham, Gov. Rick Perry’s office received by fax a crucial arson expert’s opinion that later ignited a political firestorm over whether Texas, on Perry’s watch, used botched forensic evidence to send a man to his death.

In a letter sent Feb. 14, three days before Willingham was scheduled to die, Perry had been asked to postpone the execution. The condemned man’s attorney argued that the newly obtained expert evidence showed Willingham had not set the house fire that killed his daughters, 2-year-old Amber and 1-year-old twins Karmon and Kameron, two days before Christmas in 1991.

On Feb. 17, the day of the execution, Perry’s office got the five-page faxed report at 4:52 p.m., according to documents the Houston Chronicle obtained in response to a public records request.

But it’s unclear from the records whether he read it that day. Perry’s office has declined to release any of his or his staff’s comments or analysis of the reprieve request.

A statement from Perry spokesman Chris Cutrone, sent to the Chronicle late Friday, said that “given the brevity of (the) report and the general counsel’s familiarity with all the other facts in the case, there was ample time for the general counsel to read and analyze the report and to brief the governor on its content.”

A few minutes after 5 p.m., defense lawyer Walter M. Reaves Jr. said he received word that the governor would not intervene. At 6:20 p.m. Willingham was executed after declaring: “I am an innocent man, convicted of a crime I did not commit.”

Summaries of gubernatorial reviews of execution cases previously were released as public records in Texas, most recently under former Gov. George W. Bush. Yet Perry’s office has taken the position that any documents showing his own review and staff discussion of the Willingham case are not public — a claim the Chronicle disputes.

Without those records, the question of how much — or how little — Perry considered the newly obtained evidence in his decision to proceed with execution will remain forever a state secret.

Good work by reporter Lise Olsen, who also put together a timeline in the sidebar. I hope the Chron takes this to court, because the public has a right to know what Rick Perry did with this last-minute evidence. Even the original prosecutor, John Jackson, who remains convinced of Willingham’s guilt (though I think there’s a good chance he’ll eventually come around) says Perry should release the records. What are you hiding from us, Governor Perry?

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3 Comments

  1. […] drip, drip, drip of the Willingham case continues for Rick Perry.  As Kuff pointed out Perry fills out rest of Forensic Science commission. But more disturbing we found out in the HChron piece that Perry found out about the faulty arson […]

  2. […] to read the whole thing, because it just gets worse for our only Governor. Combine this with the Chron story from Sunday about Perry stonewalling attempts to release information about what he and his staff did with the […]

  3. […] should have intervened when he got a copy of the Hurst report (assuming he ever actually read it; we may never know), but what are we going to do about these guys who are in prison right now for non-existent crimes? […]