Thursday, October 1, 2009

Being Texas Governor Rick Perry Means Never Having To Say You're Sorry.

As I was driving home from work this evening, I was listening to my local Public Radio Station, KDLL (91.9 FM), and a story on National Public Radio's “All Things Considered” caught my attention.

Host Robert Siegel spoke about the February 2004 execution in Texas of Cameron Todd Willingham, who was found guilty of intentionally setting the 1991 house fire that killed his three children.

Siegel's guest, Dave Mann, is a journalist with the Texas Observer, and he has written a series of articles about Willingham's (and other) arson cases. Mann's knowledgeable discussion of this case with Siegel is what made me come home and do some investigation... and the more I did, the more appalled and outraged I became (yeah, somehow this case never popped up on my radar until now).

Unfortunately, so the reader grasps all this, I have to give you some background, so bear with me, I'm going to get wordy.

The Texas Forensic Science Commission is responsible for investigating claims of botched forensics.

As part of their duty, they've been examining arson two cases, Willingham and Willis (another case in which the conclusions reached by the investigators has been questioned).

Now, since the Willingham fire in 1991, forensic arson science has come a long way. A number of long-time accepted "proofs" of intentionally set fires are now recognized as little more than urban legends, and controlled experiments have proved commonly-held "folklore" assumptions (used by investigators in Willingham's case) to be flat-out wrong.

To make sure they got this review right, the Commission engaged the services of Craig Beyler, PhD, Chair of the International Association for Fire Safety Science, and an internationally recognized arson expert.

Beyler reviewed all the evidence in both cases - the forensic evidence, the arson investigators' knowledge, expertise and methods, the testimony given by the investigators and other witnesses, and on August 17, 2009, issued his 62-page report to the Commission.

Here is his conclusion:
The investigations of the Willis and Willingham fires did not comport with either the modern standard of care expressed by NFPA 921, or the standard of care expressed by fire investigation texts and papers in the period 1980–1992. The investigators had poor understandings of fire science and failed to acknowledge or apply the contemporaneous understanding of the limitations of fire indicators. Their methodologies did not comport with the scientific method or the process of elimination. A finding of arson could not be sustained based upon the standard of care expressed by NFPA 921, or the standard of care expressed by fire investigation texts and papers in the period 1980–1992. (emphasis mine)
Pretty damning.

But that wasn't the thrust of the NPR story.

The thrust of the story was that Governor Rick Perry (and there's no other way to describe it) abused his power to make sure that the Forensic Science Commisson would not hold a hearing on the report...

-- because it's become obvious that in 2004 (under Perry's "leadership"), the State of Texas executed an innocent man.

The Texas Forensic Science Commission was scheduled to meet tomorrow, October 2, to discuss the report and the Willingham case.

But that ain't gonna happen.

Today, Governor Perry fired three members of the Forensic Science Commission, including Chairman Sam Basset, an Austin based defense attorney.

Perry replaced Chairman Bassett with John Bradley, a district attorney who is famous for being "tough-on-crime"... and whose first official act was to immediately cancel tomorrow's hearing.

I used to think that Rick Perry was just a self-serving asshat... but that's really too kind a term to use to describe him.

David Mann writes more about this travesty, and the possible ramifications here.

1 comment:

Grace said...

Thank you for taking the time to fill in the details of this obscenity.

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