After a state-funded report revealed in August that Texas may have executed an innocent man under the watch of Governor Rick Perry, the Texas Republican currently facing a steep re-election climb was quick to act in his own best interest.
He replaced three members on the key committee charged with investigating the report's truth, installing what CNN called a "political ally" to head up the Texas Forensic Science Commission.
Sunday, the cable news network reported that Perry had moved to replace a fourth member of the commission, reaching the legal limit of how many members he can seat. The five other members are selected by the attorney general and lieutenant governor.
Perry's political ally who now leads the commission was quick to postpone a hearing in which the committee would have heard from the author of the report that suggested Cameron Todd Willingham may have been innocent. The report from renowned fire expert Craig Beyler, requested by the Texas Forensic Science Commission, also casts doubt on death penalty supporters’ insistence that there are sufficient safeguards to prevent the innocent from being put to death. It also raises new calls for the abolition of the death penalty, but has not been released to the public.
Forensic investigations done since Willingham's conviction have found no evidence of arson. Nonetheless, Perry refused to grant Willingham a stay of execution in 2004, even though credible questions had already been raised about Willingham's guilt.
"Commissioner Alan Levy was replaced by John Bradley, a district attorney who was also named commission chairman. Aliece Watts was replaced by Norma Farley, chief forensic pathologist for Hidalgo and Cameron counties. Perry said at the time the replacements were 'pretty normal protocol,'" CNN reported.
The network added: "In a statement Thursday, Perry's office said he had appointed attorney Lance Evans of Fort Worth to replace former commission chairman Samuel Bassett of Austin, and that Randall Frost of Boerne, chief medical examiner for Bexar County, would replace commissioner Sridhar Natarajan."
"Gov. Perry said that the change was 'business as usual,'" the ACLU wrote on its blog Friday. "Unfortunately, his words ring all too true. Willingham is not the first likely innocent person executed by the State of Texas. Others include Carlos De Luna and Ruben Cantu. But the state has never acknowledged any of these tragic mistakes. Business as usual, all right."
The ACLU statement described the governor's timing for the removal of the three commissioners as "extremely suspicious, to say the least."
"The Houston Chronicle reported Sunday that documents obtained through a public records request indicate Perry's office received a fax 88 minutes before Willingham's execution detailing an arson expert's opinion that evidence used at the man's trial was tainted by "major errors" and relied on discredited arson examination techniques," noted UPI.
The Chronicle attempted to acquire a copy of the report, but the governor's office refused to release it.