Perry's certainty about execution ignores science
When a nationally respected fire engineer rebuked an arson investigation
that sent a Texas man to his death, the country took notice.
The question of whether our state executed an innocent man spurred a
national discussion, as media outlets from Nightline to The New
Yorkerexplored whether the fiery deaths of Cameron Todd Willingham's 3
young children were a tragic accident or capital murder. A growing number
of experts have rejected the finding that the fire was arson, arguing that
investigators relied on folklore and junk science to reach that
Most recently, an expert hired by the Texas Forensic Science Commission
issued a scathing report that detailed the many failings of the original
arson-murder investigation. Dr. Craig L. Beyler wrote that investigators'
conclusions could not be supported by modern science.
Beyler's emphatic rejection of the arson conclusion, coupled with similar
findings by other forensic experts, have rightly compelled many to take a
hard look at whether Texas got it wrong. On Friday, the Forensic Science
Commission will take up Beyler's report and decide how to proceed in this
But Gov. Rick Perry has not let expert reports or modern science shake his
belief that Willingham must be a murderer. So certain is the governor that
he's delivered his own guilty verdict without bothering to wait for the
Forensic Science Commission's own conclusions in the case.
Perry flippantly dismissed the findings of "supposed experts." Just in
case his sarcasm wasn't evident, he added air quotes with his fingers to
dismiss the nationally respected scientists.
The governor says he's seen nothing that would cause him to question this
capital murder conviction. That's disappointing.
While it's difficult to say definitively whether a dead man was actually
innocent, the prosecution's original case appears to be unraveling. At the
very least, Willingham would have sought a new trial and a chance to allow
a jury to hear the more scientifically sound findings.
Prosecutors have said that other evidence such as Willingham's strange
behavior at the time of the fire proves his guilt. But if they could not
credibly argue that this was arson, how did he kill his family?
The very foundation of this case has been debunked, so it requires a leap
in logic to argue that without proof of arson, Willingham somehow still
was guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
Just as advances in DNA science have shed new light on physical evidence
from old cases, improved scientific methods have helped experts understand
how fire behaves and have provided new insights into arson investigations.
To ignore these advances is irresponsible and risks the possibility of the
state making a fatal error.
The governor would be wise to allow the commission to finish its work
before making such definitive determinations. And as Perry considers this
case, he should not allow reflexive certainty to trump science.Meeting
The Texas Forensic Science Commission will meet at 9:30 a.m. Friday at the
Omni Mandalay Hotel at Las Colinas. On the agenda: a review and discussion
of a new report that rebukes an arson investigation that led to Cameron
Todd Willingham's capital murder conviction. The meeting will include a
public comment period.
(source: Editorial, Dallas Morning News)
Is death penalty worth the risk?
In 2006, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia stated that in the
modern era there has not been "a single casenot onein which it is clear
that a person was executed for a crime he did not commit. If such an event
had occurred in recent years, we would not have to hunt for it; the
innocent's name would be shouted from the rooftops."
Here is that name: Cameron Todd Willingham.
Willingham was executed in Texas in 2004 for an arson fire that killed his
children and was convicted based on the testimony of forensic scientists
and a jailhouse informant. Now, an investigative report by David Grann of
The New Yorker deconstructs every aspect of this case showing that none of
the evidence that convicted Willingham was valid.
In mid-August, a Texas commission's own expert noted fire scientist Craig
Beyler issued a scathing report stating that investigators in this case
had no scientific basis for claiming arson and ignored evidence that
contradicted their theory. This report would be welcome news if Willingham
had received life without parole. Instead, he is dead.
Is the death penalty worth such a risk with available alternatives?
Perhaps we should ask Cameron Todd Willingham's grieving family.
George Hartz—-Battle Lake
(source: Letter to the Editor, Fergus Falls (Minn.) Daily Journal)
Supreme Court reprieve for Garland officer's killer leaves family waiting
In what his defense attorney called "an extraordinary act of the court,"
Kenneth Mosley escaped lethal injection Thursday for the murder 12 years
ago of a Garland police officer.
It was an upsetting delay for the officer's family and friends, who were
planning to make the 3-hour drive to Huntsville for the execution.
The trip was supposed to give them closure after the death of Officer
Michael "David" Moore. He was shot 5 times while trying to stop a bank
robbery in 1997.
"I'm taking it pretty well," Sheila Moore, the officer's widow, said
between making phone calls to get the word out about the delay.
"Things happen for a reason. I can only say, 'Here we go again.' "
Her mother, Marcella Simmons, took the news badly. She had flown to Dallas
from Kentucky on Tuesday, hoping to witness the execution alongside her
"The state of Texas has been supporting him all these years and there's no
doubt he did it," Simmons said of Mosley. "He murdered David."
On Wednesday, the U.S. Supreme Court granted a stay of execution for
Mosley, 51, who lived in Mesquite at the time of the slaying.
The stay was intended to give the justices time to review his case. His
attorneys are hoping for a new trial.
"This just puts the case on pause until such time as the court does
something further," said Meg Penrose, a law professor at Texas Wesleyan
Law School in Fort Worth and a member of Mosley's defense team.
She said the order was extraordinary because it arrived within a day of
Mosley's expected execution.
Penrose said the Supreme Court may consider extenuating circumstances,
such as "brain impairment" that Mosley supposedly suffered from childhood
exposure to pesticides.
Such exposure probably would "lessen his moral culpability" for the
shooting, Penrose said, and get him a life sentence instead of death.
A group of Garland police officers did not get word of the ruling until
Thursday morning. They and their spouses had to scrap plans to ride a
private bus to the Huntsville prison.
About 60 to 80 people were planning to stand outside the prison walls
until the injection was administered. Most Texas executions occur shortly
after 6 p.m.
"We were going to offer moral support for the Moore family and law
enforcement," said Bill Cortez, Garland's assistant police chief, who
helped plan the trip.
He sounded less impatient than others about the delay.
"It is so important to the criminal justice process to do everything that
is right and correct," Cortez said. "We just have to be patient."
It was the 2nd time this year that Mosley had won a reprieve.
His original July 16 execution date was postponed because Gov. Rick Perry
and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst were scheduled to be out of the state that
The law requires one or the other to be available for any last-minute
decisions on the case.
Although Mosley does not deny that he shot the officer on Feb. 15, 1997,
he insisted the shooting was accidental. Further, he accused his original
attorneys of failing to investigate his life for "mitigating
circumstances" that would explain why he did it.
Penrose said she wasn't certain why the Supreme Court granted the stay.
The single-paragraph statement, issued about 5:45 p.m. Wednesday, gave no
The order noted only that the Supreme Court would consider a "writ of
certiorari," a request for review of a case after a lower court has ruled
In Mosley's case, he was denied an opportunity to present the
constitutional flaws discovered in his trial to the Fifth Circuit Court of
Appeals, Penrose said.
Mosley has maintained that his original attorneys did not mention that he
had suffered "brain impairment." Mosley's use of crack cocaine also might
explain any subsequent brain damage, Penrose said.
"The Supreme Court has said drug and alcohol addiction has to be
investigated and probably presented" at trial, Penrose said. "The defense
attorney has the obligation."
Mosley was found guilty of capital murder after a weeklong trial in
Penrose said she has been working on Mosley's case for about 7 years,
alongside Bruce Anton, a Dallas criminal defense attorney.
Mosley's attorneys also have cited similarities between his case and that
of an Alabama death row prisoner whose case the Supreme Court will
consider in November.
In that case, Holly Wood was convicted in 1994 of murdering his
ex-girlfriend. Wood maintained that his "mental retardation" was
overlooked by his attorney and never presented to the jury as "mitigating
(source: Dallas Morning News)