2 Texans sent to death row by bad science
On September 3, the Dallas Progressive Examiner reported on the conclusion
reached by Maryland's Dr. Craig L. Beyler, that two men were sent to
Texas' death row, because of bad science. Dr Beyler was hired by the Texas
Forensic Science Commission, to run a study of the investigations of two
fires resulting in deaths . Ernest Willis was convicted in 1987 of killing
2 women by setting a fire. In 2004, a new district attorney, suspected
that bad science had been used in the original investigation. The D.A.
ordered a new one, which cleared Willis. The 2nd case, was that of Cameron
Todd Willingham of Corsicana, who was convicted in 1992 of setting the
fire which killed his 2 year old daughter and 1 year old pair of twins. He
was executed in 2004
The Commission was scheduled to hold a hearing on Friday, October 2 in
Irving, at which Beyler was to testify about the study. 2 days before that
hearing, Governor Perry removed the chairman and two others from the
commission. The new chairman, reputed to be one of the most conservative
prosecutors in Texas canceled the hearing, and refused to say whether it
will be rescheduled.
Beyler, a nationally-recognized expert in fire science, released his
findings in August. He found that there was no way that an investigator
could determine that Willingham intentionally set the fire that killed his
children. Willingham's prosecutor admitted that the fire science used to
prove that Willingham set the fire was bad, but said there were other
reasons he knew Willingham was guilty, such as the fact that Willingham's
feet weren't burned, as they would have been, if he had tried to rescue
his children. Beyler said that there was extensive documentation showing
that Willingham was burned.
Shortly before Willingham's execution, his attorneys found indications
that the investigation had been flawed, and applied to the governor for a
30 day stay, so that they could submit their findings to the court.
Perry denied the stay. He said that he didn't accept Beyler's findings and
felt there was further proof of Willingham's guilt.
Many experts condemned Perry's action of dismissing the commissioners.
Barry Scheck of the Innocence Project compared the firings of the
commission members to the Saturday Night Massacre, in which Richard Nixon
fired special prosecutor Archibald Cox, before he was compelled to give
Cox the Watergate tapes. Sam Bassett, the chairman of the commission who
was replaced, said that forensic investigations should not be stopped by
political ramifications. Gerald Hunt, a chemist with an explosives
corporation who wrote Perry before the execution saying the investigation
had been faulty, said he is not surprised by Perry's actions, but that he
had not expected the governor to go so far. He thinks Perry doesn't want
the public to hear from Beyler, because Beyler's professional credentials
Perry's opponents in the gubernatorial race also spoke up. His Republican
opponent, US Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, said that she is pro death
penalty, but only when we are sure of the person's guilt. Democratic
candidate Tom Schieffer said that "No one in public life should ever be
afraid of the truth", and called for the hearings to be rescheduled.
Most of the developed countries have abolished the death penalty. A list
of the nations who execute the most people is telling. The top 3 in order
are China, Saudi Arabia and the United States. Texas executes more people
than any other state.
(source: Dallas Progressive Examiner)