Texas governor shakes up panel probing 2004 execution
Gov. Rick Perry replaced the chairman of the Texas Forensic Science
Perry refused 2 other reappointments; his office said their terms had
Man executed for setting a fire in his home that killed his 3 daughters
Commission probing whether Cameron Willingham should have been on death
Texas Gov. Rick Perry on Wednesday shook up the ranks of a state
commission that is probing whether a man executed in 2004 belonged on
death row, forcing the commission to delay a scheduled hearing on the
Gov. Rick Perry's office said the moves were a routine replacement of
members whose terms had expired.
Perry replaced the chairman of the Texas Forensic Science Commission and
refused to reappointment two other members. The moves came two days before
the commission had been scheduled to hear from arson investigation expert
Craig Beyler, the author of the latest of three reports critical of the
testimony that helped prosecutors convict Cameron Todd Willingham of
murder in 1992. The governor's office told CNN the moves were a routine
replacement of members whose terms had expired.
Perry, who says he remains convinced of Willingham's guilt, replaced
commission Chairman Sam Bassett with John Bradley, the district attorney
of Williamson County, near Austin. Another member, Aliece Watts, was
replaced with San Antonio forensic pathologist Norma Farley. Perry also
did not reappoint Alan Levy, a prosecutor in Fort Worth's Tarrant County.
As a result of the shakeup, the Forensic Science Commission put off
Friday's scheduled session with Beyler, who was to answer questions about
his conclusions in a public forum. The commission "will need time to
regroup and reorganize," its staff coordinator, Leigh Tomlin, told CNN.
Bassett said he had asked to be reappointed to the commission, but,
"Obviously, Governor Perry had other plans." He would not say whether he
thought his replacement was politically motivated, but added, "I'm worried
the good work of the commission will get tabled."
Willingham was accused of setting a fire in his home in Corsicana that
killed his three daughters. He insisted on his innocence until the end,
and opponents of the death penalty say his case and the subsequent reviews
may force Texas to admit it executed an innocent man.
The Beyler report concludes that findings at the heart of Willingham's
conviction — that the fire that killed his daughters was set deliberately
— "could not be sustained" by either modern science or the standards of
the time. 2 previous reports by other experts also concluded that the
fatal blaze was not arson, but Beyler's is the first commissioned by the
In Ardmore, Oklahoma, where his family lives, Willingham's stepmother said
she was "shocked and disappointed" by the postponement of Friday's
"What good is it going to be having a commission if they don't have the
freedom to investigate and find out what really happened?" she asked.
But Corsicana police Sgt. Jimmie Hensley, the lead investigator in the
Willingham case, dismissed the reports as "Monday-morning quarterbacking."
"I'm firmly a believer that justice was served," Hensley said.
Texas pardons longest-serving inmate freed by DNA A Texas man who spent
more time in prison than any other inmate before being exonerated by DNA
evidence was pardoned by Texas Gov. Rick Perry on Wednesday, clearing the
way for him to collect millions of dollars from the state.
James Woodard's conviction was set aside 18 months ago after DNA testing
showed he didn't commit the 1980 murder for which he had spent nearly 3
decades in prison. The Innocence Project said his 27 years behind bars
edges out Charles Chatman, a Dallas man also cleared by DNA evidence, for
Woodard was the boyfriend of the victim, who was found sexually assaulted
and strangled. One of two eyewitnesses recanted her testimony, and
subsequent DNA testing showed Woodard did not commit the sexual assault.
Texas enacted a law this year making its compensation for wrongly
convicted people the most generous in the nation. They receive $80,000 for
each year of incarceration, plus a lifetime annuity. In Woodard's case,
that totals about $4.3 million.
Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins and a state district judge
wrote letters supporting giving Woodard a pardon for innocence, which was
recommended unanimously by the state Board of Pardons and Paroles.
"My action today cannot give back the time he spent in prison, but it does
end this miscarriage of justice," Perry said in a statement.
The pardon makes Woodard the 39th person cleared by DNA evidence in Texas,
a nationwide high, according to the Innocence Project, a New York legal
center that specializes in overturning wrongful convictions.
For years, Woodard wrote to court officials asking them to re-examine his
"This couldn't happen to a more deserving guy," said Woodard's attorney,
Innocence Project of Texas Chief Counsel Jeff Blackburn. "He is a
remarkable guy who fought his own case, all along, with no one listening
to him for 20-some years."
Woodard is 1 of 21 wrongly convicted Dallas County men whose convictions
have been set aside after DNA testing. Prosecutors plan to retry one of
(source: Associated Press)