Dare Devils: Governor Rick Perry and the Texas Death Panel
I've chosen to ignore most of the health care rhetoric. I know what I
believe–the health care industry is so clearly broken that a thousand
monkeys typing explanations of benefits could come up with that
conclusion–and I'm sick of hearing Republicans argue otherwise. But on
the subject of death panels, which Sarah Palin dropped into her recent
Wall Street Journal op-ed with a wink, like a twelve-year old flashing a
passing car–"Dare me, guys?"–I find the conservative argument bordering
on the edge of delusional. Republicans like Sarah Palin need to stop
playing truth or dare with people's lives. Since when do conservatives
care about anyone dying? With the exception of their fetish for protecting
a few eggs produced by women's ovaries every twenty-eight days, the
Republican Party has historically shown zero regard for whether anyone
lives or dies.
People die every day, buried with medical bills and coughing blood from
their graves. The slaughter of Iraqis is neither shocking nor awesome.
Immigrants scrambling across the border are not deserving of a life in
this country, legal or otherwise. Former Republican Party of Texas vice
chairman David Barton, now enjoying an appointment by the Texas Board of
Education, has so little regard for a human's life that he wants to strike
Cesar Chavez from the history books. In Barton's "expert" review of Texas
schools' social studies curriculum, he says Chavez "lacks the stature,
impact and overall contributions of others." He forgot to add, "Who are
white" after that statement.
But the most disturbing representation of a life lost was the one
sentenced to Cameron Todd Willingham, who in 1991 lost his three children
in a house fire in Corsicana, Texas and was sentenced to death after
refusing a plea-bargain for life in prison. The New Yorker recently took
an in-depth look at the case, asking, "Did Texas execute an innocent man?"
Willingham, who maintained his innocence up to his death, spent twelve
years in prison going through the government's appeals process. The Texas
Court of Criminal Appeals, whose presiding judge is conservative Sharon
"We Close at 5 O'Clock" Keller, "was known for upholding convictions when
overwhelming exculpatory evidence came to light." The court denied
Willingham of his writ of habeas corpus and a month before his execution,
his file landed on the desk of Dr. Gerald Hurst, an Austin scientist and
fire investigator who began reviewing the case. Hurst's report, which
concluded there was "no evidence of arson," (a conclusion which has since
been reached by three additional investigations) was sent to Governor Rick
Perry and the Board of Pardons and Paroles along with Willingham's appeal
for clemency. The board members are not required to review any submitted
materials, and "usually don't debate a case in person." Instead, they cast
their votes by fax–a process which, the New Yorker article states, "has
become known as 'death by fax.'" Even more troubling: "Between 1976 and
2004, when Willingham filed his petition, the State of Texas had approved
only one application for clemency from a prisoner on death row." It is, in
fact, Texas's own death panel.
Health care reform at best will offer an alternative to the people who
need it the most, stymie medical costs, and create change within an
industry that has been allowed to run rampant. At worst, it would be
symbolic proof that the option can be supported and improved from there.
In either case, it is not going to create a government panel to put people
to death. We already have one.
"The only statement I want to make is that I am an innocent man convicted
of a crime I did not commit. I have been persecuted for 12 years for
something I did not do. From God's dust I came and to dust I will return,
so the Earth shall become my throne." – Cameron Todd Willingham's final
statement, February 17, 2004
(source: Rachel Farris, Huffington Post)
Chaplain May Be Fired for Carrying Inmate Letters
A death row chaplain is facing dismissal after he acknowledged smuggling
out letters for a condemned inmate who has posted Internet messages
threatening a state lawmaker and that man's family, Texas prison officials
It's not known if the letters mailed by the chaplain, Richard Anderson,
for death row prisoner Richard Tabler are the ones that ended up on a Web
site dedicated to condemned inmates and their cases, Texas Department of
Criminal Justice spokeswoman Michelle Lyons said.
The chaplain's actions thwarted rules that require monitoring of nearly
all inmate mail.
''We've yet to confirm these are the same letters ultimately posted on the
Internet,'' Lyons said. ''Regardless, it's a serious infraction and
consequently he's been recommended for termination.
''You don't carry out letters for inmates. You don't carry letters out for
death row inmates. You especially don't carry out letters for Richard
Tabler, who already has shown a propensity for threatening people outside
his prison cell.''
Tabler's threatening call last year to Sen. John Whitmire, using a cell
phone smuggled into the Polunsky Unit outside Livingston, was the impetus
for a crackdown on illegal cell phones and other contraband throughout the
nation's 2nd-largest prison system. Tabler then became the focus of an
investigation after an Internet posting from him on a Web site dedicated
to death row inmates and their cases again threatened Whitmire and his
Prisoners have no access to computers and all of Tabler's incoming and
outgoing mail is read except for mail pertaining to his court case. The
prison system's Office of the Inspector General has been investigating how
Tabler was able to get such a letter to someone else to post.
''We developed some information that we may have had an employee
involvement in carrying out communications, some letters from him that
circumvented the security that was in place,'' Inspector General John
Moriarty said Friday. ''We ended up developing evidence that a chaplain
carried some information out.''
Anderson, 51, has worked as a chaplain at the Polunsky Unit, which
includes death row, since March 2008. He could not be reached Friday. His
firing, recommended Thursday, would be a matter for administrators at the
prison, Lyons said.
Moriarty said at least for now, it didn't appear Anderson would face
''Carrying stuff outside usually is a policy violation,'' he said.
''Bringing stuff in is a criminal violation.
''If the investigation develops that he was a known participant and knew
what he was carrying out as far as threats, that would change the
dynamics. At this point, we don't have that affirmative link to that
Moriarty said it was not immediately certain who received the letters the
''We've got some information that indicates it was the letters we're
looking for, but we can't prove that,'' he said.
Tabler told investigators about the chaplain's role in accepting and
mailing the letters and the chaplain then confirmed it, prison officials
''It raises questions about security as it relates to prison employees,''
said Whitmire, a Houston Democrat, the Texas Senate's longest-serving
member and chairman of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee. ''In this
instance, a chaplain is a little alarming. If a chaplain thinks he's
serving his flock by taking unauthorized letters in and out, what else
would he be doing?''
Tabler, 40, was condemned for the slayings of 2 men in 2004. He does not
have an execution date. He is set for arraignment in December on
additional charges stemming from the cell phone use. The Tulare, Calif.,
native also has a record in that state, where he was sentenced to 3 years
for burglary, assault an officer and escape.
His mother and sister also face arraignment next month on charges of
possessing contraband in a state prison related to the cell phone use.
(source: Associated Press)