Gov. Perry replaces head of agency investigating Texas arson findings
Gov. Rick Perry has replaced the head of a state commission that is
investigating a questionable finding of arson in the case that led to the
2004 execution of Cameron Todd Willingham, just as the commission was due
to hold a public hearing examining the case.
The commission had hired a nationally known expert whose review of the
Willingham case was released last month. The author, Craig Beyler, called
the investigation slipshod and determined that almost all of the evidence
presented was based on junk science.
Beyler was due to address the commission, review his report and take
questions at a meeting Friday in Irving. He had reached the conclusion
that no credible evidence existed to believe that the fire, that killed 3
children, was caused by arson.
This week, the governor chose not to extend the terms of Austin lawyer Sam
Bassett, former chair of the commission, as well as 2 others on the
9-member Texas Forensic Science Commission. The new commission chair
promptly cancelled Friday's meeting on the Beyler report.
The Willingham case, in which his 3 young children died in a 1991
Corsicana house fire, has drawn national attention. Anti-death penalty
advocates consider it the likeliest case in recent decades in which an
innocent man was executed.
Perry had denied Willingham's request for a stay of execution 5 years ago.
His lawyers asked the governor for the 30-day reprieve to give the courts
time to review new reports that called the fire investigation into
question. Willingham had always maintained his innocence.
The governor has questioned Beyler's findings and argued that there is
other evidence of Willingham's guilt. And he told The Associated Press on
Wednesday that the terms of the dismissed board members were expiring and
replacing them "was pretty standard business as usual."
Perry's challenger in the March Republican primary, Sen. Kay Bailey
Hutchison, said that the case has not been handled properly.
"Why you wouldn't at least have the hearing that the former member
suggested, to find out what the facts are, when a man has been executed
and now the facts are in dispute just like DNA has given more tools to
determine the facts," she said. "I am strongly for the death penalty, but
always with the absolute assurance that you have the ability to be sure
with the technology that we have that a person is guilty."
She demurred when asked directly whether she believes that Texas executed
an innocent man in this case.
"I answered your question," she said. "To the best of my knowledge, I've
answered your question."
(source: Dallas Morning News)
Perry replaces head of commission on execution
In a surprise move, Gov. Rick Perry today appointed 2 new members to a
state commission investigating case of a Corsicana man who some believe
was wrongly executed for murdering his children forcing the cancellation
of a meeting on the case scheduled for Friday.
Named to head the Texas Forensic Science Commission was John Bradley,
district attorney in Williamson County. Bradley cancelled Friday's meeting
at which the panel was to accept fire expert Craig Beyler's analysis of
arson investigators' work in the deadly December 1991 house fire.
3 children perished in the blaze. Their father, Cameron Todd Willingham,
was convicted of capital murder and executed.
Bradley, who has been his county's chief prosecutor since December 2001,
said he called off Friday's meeting because he didn't have adequate time
to study the arson case.
Beyler's report was extremely critical of the investigations by Corsicana
and state arson investigators, concluding they based their arson ruling on
outdated and sloppy procedures.
Beyler's was the 3rd review to fault the arson investigators.
Outgoing commission chairman, Sam Bassett, an Austin defense lawyer,
expressed "disappointment" at Perry's timing in the naming of new
commissioners, but noted, "I understand that I serve at the pleasure of
Also replaced were commission members Alan Levy, head of the Tarrant
County District Attorney's criminal division, and Aliece Watts, quality
director at Euless-based Integrated Forensic Laboratories.
Perry named Norma Farley, chief forensic pathologist for Cameron and
Hidalgo counties to the panel, and will name a 3rd member in the near
A spokeswoman for the commission, which is headquartered at Sam Houston
State University in Huntsville, said the outgoing members' 2-year terms
technically expired on Sept. 1.
Spokesmen for Perry's office did not offer immediate comments on the
timing of the appointments.
Levy, who, like Bassett, had served 4 years on the panel, called Perry's
timing on the appointments "unfortunate."
"It will raise suspicions whether they are justified or not," he said.
"This is a very important case. What this is going to do is raise the
temperature, and that will not be a good thing."
(source: Houston Chronicle)
Convicted cop killer Carl Wayne Buntion gets new punishment trial
Carl Wayne Buntion, a convicted killer on death row who gunned down a
Houston police officer nearly 20 years ago, is getting a new punishment
trial after the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals ruled Wednesday his trial
jury received an improper instruction when it decided he should be put to
Carl Wayne Buntion, 65, has been on death row since 1991 for the shooting
death of James Irby, 37, a Houston motorcycle officer who pulled over a
car in which Buntion was a passenger.
The appeals court said instructions given to jurors deliberating whether
he should get the death penalty did not have a proper way to "to give
meaningful consideration" to evidence Buntion had a troubled childhood,
was mistreated by an alcoholic father and had run away from home to work
on a dairy farm because his family was poor. Evidence also showed Buntion
suffered from a paranoid personality disorder, depression and a mild brain
Buntion had been on parole only 6 weeks at the time of the June 1990
shooting, serving only 13 months of a 15-year sentence for sexual assault
of a child. It was the latest of about a dozen convictions over nearly 30
years for Buntion, who first went to prison when he was 17.
His case prompted a public outcry about the parole system in Texas and
crowding in state prisons that required court-mandated inmate releases.
Because of all the publicity, Buntion's trial was moved from Houston to
Gillespie County, about 200 miles to the west.
Irby, an 18-year officer in Houston, was shot in the head and back as he
talked to the driver of the car. Buntion had tried to get out of the car
and leave and was ordered to return by the officer. Witnesses in another
car saw the shooting and screamed and Buntion opened fire on them,
injuring them. He fled on foot, tried to steal a car and eventually turned
himself in to police.
Buntion said the shooting was in self-defense.
Last year, a federal appeals court reversed a lower federal judges ruling
that overturned Buntions conviction. U.S. District Judge Kenneth Hoyt had
ruled Buntions trial judge was biased against Buntion and had deprived
Buntion of his constitutional right to a fair trial.
The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals criticized State District Judge Bill
Harmon for lapses in judicial temperament but said his actions at the
trial didnt amount to bias. The Texas State Commission on Judicial Conduct
subsequently publicly reprimanded Harmon for his conduct in the case.
The Court of Criminal Appeals, in brief orders Wednesday, also refused
appeals from 3 other condemned inmates: Ruben Ramirez Cardenas, Sheldon
Aaron Ward and David Lee Powell.
Cardenas, 39, a Mexican native, was convicted of the rape-slaying of a
16-year-old girl abducted from Edinburg in Hidalgo County in 1997.
Ward, 30, of Haltom City, was convicted of the rape-slaying of a woman in
Fort Worth in 2002.
Powell, 58, was convicted of using an assault rifle to kill an Austin
police officer during a traffic stop in 1978.
4 men indicted in slaying of Houston doctor
An Austin County grand jury has indicted 4 men on capital murder charges
in the slaying last month of a prominent Houston doctor.
The 4 men are in Austin County Jail in Bellville without bond. Their next
court date is Oct. 13.
Dr. Jorge Mario Gonzalez was shot several times as he arrived with his
family at his 30-acre ranch near Bellville on Aug. 22.
The indictment issued Wednesday says brothers Cristobal, Moises and Noel
Galvan-Cerna and their cousin, Misael Santollo, killed Gonzalez in a
failed burglary and robbery. They also allegedly planned to abduct
Noel Galvan-Cerna's attorney, Katherine Scardino, says she plans to see if
anything in her client's background could take a possible death sentence
off the table. Attorneys for the other men haven't returned messages from
The Associated Press.
Gonzalez was critical-care chief at The Methodist Hospital in Houston.
(source for both: Associated Press)
Suspects in Gonzalez murder indicted on capital murder charges—-Sources
say kidnapping was the motive
4 suspects charged with the murder of Dr. Jorge Gonzalez were indicted on
capital murder charges Wednesday in Austin County.
Authorities confirmed that the motive was kidnapping and robbery. They say
the three Houston brothers and their cousin were planning to kidnap the
doctor's wife and baby and hold them for ransom.
They were going to drive the doctor to a bank and force him to withdraw
money, according to 11 News sources.
Their plan blew up when Dr. Jorge Gonzalez grabbed a gun inside the ranch
house and began firing at the 3 masked intruders who ambushed the family
at their Bellville ranch in August.
The doctor was shot several times during the gun battle and he died at the
His wife, Charleen, and their baby son hid in a closet and were unharmed.
She called 911 from inside the closet.
The couples ranch hand, 21-year-old Noel Galvan, was also wounded in the
shootout. Now authorities say he was in on the whole thing.
Galvan, his brothers Cristobal Galvan Cerna, 23, and Moises Galvan Cerna,
18, and their cousin, 18-year-old Misael Santollo, remain jailed without
Dr. Jorge Mario Gonzalez with his wife, Charleen, and son, Mario, at their
ranch in Bellville. Investigators say they don't believe anyone else was
The 3 brothers are illegal immigrants. Prosecutors say they haven't
decided whether they'll seek the death penalty, but have been in touch
with the Mexican consulate about the case. Mexico has opposed execution of
its citizens in past cases.
Charleen Gonzalez was shocked to learn that she was allegedly the target
of a kidnapping plot and wondered why authorities didn't tell her.
She also feels betrayed by the ranch hand they trusted.
"When we first found out that his [Galvan's] relatives had been arrested,
we were deeply hurt," she said. "But when we found out Noel was involved
the wound was deeper."
Gonzalez said they felt Galvan was trying to better his life by learning
English and they did their best to help him.
"We treated Noel like family, paid him well, took him to dinner, made sure
he had work. This is our payback?" she asked.
Investigators had already charged Galvan's brothers and cousin with murder
in the case.
The charges could be upgraded to capital murder soon, according to
Noel Galvan, 21, is charged with murder in the death of Dr. Jorge
The suspects are cooperating with investigators, according to sources.
It's not clear if the other 3 intruders intended to shoot the ranch hand
to draw attention away from him as a suspect, or if he was shot
Galvan was hospitalized in serious condition for several days and doctors
werent able to remove the bullet.
Relatives said Gonzalez, who served as the chief of the critical care unit
at Methodist Hospital in Houston, was a family man whose life mission was
to help others.
"We are a tight-knit family and he was just a perfect man, a perfect
father and a great physician," the doctors son told 11 News last month.
Relatives say the doctor loved his ranch in Bellville and took his family
there almost every weekend to escape the fast pace of city life.
(source: KHOU News)