It’s not hard to figure out why Governor Perry removed the chairman and two members of the Texas Forensic Science Commission just before its scheduled meeting: He was about to be embarrassed, and not just in Texas but nationally. The commission was going to hear a report from an arson expert that the investigation leading to the conviction and execution of Cameron Todd Willingham for the murder of his three daughters was flawed. The case has received national attention because of the possibility that Texas executed an innocent man on Perry’s watch. The removal of the three members forced the cancellation of the meeting and prevented the report from being heard.
Perry dug a hole for himself on a recent trip to Washington by blustering his way through a meeting with reporters. From the Dallas Morning News story:
Governor Rick Perry today strenuously defended the execution of a Corsicana man whose conviction for killing his daughters in a house fire hinged on an arson finding that top experts call junk science.
“I’m familiar with the latter-day supposed experts on the arson side of it,” Perry said, making quotation marks with his fingers to underscore his skepticism.
Even without proof that the fire was arson, he added, the court records he reviewed before the execution of Cameron Todd Willingham in 2004 showed “clear and compelling, overwhelming evidence that he was in fact the murderer of his children.”
That image of Perry mocking the investigation of his own commission, making quotation marks in the air, is such inappropriate behavior for the subject matter. Couldn’t he just say that a special commission is taking steps to review the case and he intends to see that the evidence will get a full and complete hearing? It’s the same personality trait that we saw on the videotape about the recession.
Let’s call this what it is: a cover-up. The new chairman, Williamson County district attorney John Bradley, is a political ally of Perry’s (see below) who is famously tough on crime. It would be a conversion of mythic proportions if he were to agree with the investigators’ criticism. He now controls when the commission will meet, and you can bet that the report will not be heard or discussed in a public forum before the March 2 primary.
This example of Bradley at work is from “Grits for Breakfast,” the excellent criminal justice blog, in 2005:
During the hearing Thursday on HB 2193, which would strengthen Texas’ probation system, the Statesman’s Mike Ward reports that aides to Governor Perry proposed gutting amendments to the bill. The proposals were apparently supplied by Williamson County District Attorney John Bradley, the only bill opponent who spoke at the hearing.
Is it likely that the Willingham case will be an issue in the governor’s race? I doubt it. Most Texans, including me, favor capital punishment. They don’t favor executing innocent people, though. The Hutchison campaign’s usually hard-hitting morning blast tread very lightly on this issue:
Rick Perry’s removal of three appointees on the Texas Forensic Science Commission on the eve of a critical hearing is the dominating story this morning. Rick Perry will probably be forced to explain his actions at today’s press event. As for today’s schedule ….
What we’ve been seeing lately is a succession of unfavorable stories about Perry. He had to explain his joke about the recession with a public statement. Now he is going to have to explain his musical chairmen. It is never good for a politician to have to explain. Sometimes it’s hard to know if the public is paying attention, especially this far in advance of an election, but the accumulation of unfavorable stories eventually adds up.