death penalty news—-TEXAS

Oct. 14


Jury selection begins in Galveston for 2nd 'Baby Grace' trial

About 1,200 prospective jury pool members appeared Wednesday at the
Galveston County Courthouse as proceedings got under way for the 2nd
capital murder trial in the death of 2-year-old Riley Ann Sawyers, known
as Baby Grace until her body was identified.

Riley's mother, Kimberly Dawn Trenor, 21, was convicted of capital murder
in February and sentenced to life imprisonment. The trial of the child's
stepfather, Royce Clyde Zeigler II, 26, of Spring begins with jury
selection Oct. 27. The prosecution is not seeking the death penalty.

Trenor was convicted of participating in a brutal disciplinary session in
which Riley was hurled onto the floor and held under water. Riley died of
head injuries. Trenor told police that she and Zeigler put Riley's body in
plastic bags, then placed it in a blue plastic box that was kept for more
than a month in a storage shed. The couple tossed the box off the
Galveston Island railroad bridge and a fisherman discovered it on an

Galveston County District Judge David Garner was concerned that publicity
about the case might make it difficult to find an unbiased jury pool.
Garner asked 1,200 new prospective jury pool members to report each day
for 3 days, said Bonnie Quiroga, Galveston County justice administration

Each day prejudiced jurors will be winnowed out until 125 jury pool
members are selected. The process took less than 2 days for the Trenor
trial and Galveston County District Attorney Kurt Sistrunk says the
process could be completed by the end of the day Wednesday. If that
happens, the remaining 2,400 prospective jury pool members will be told
not to show up or turned away on Thursday and Friday.

12 jurors and several alternate jurors will be chosen from the 125-member
jury pool on Oct. 27. Zeigler's attorney, Neal Davis III, said it should
take less than a day to choose a jury.

(source: Houston Chronicle)


Memo to Kay–Even someone who supports the death penalty, as you do, can
and should be up in arms over the Cameron Willingham case.

Hey Senator Hutchison, would your campaign have any interest in painting
your opponent, Governor Rick Perry, as a corrupt, cold-hearted political
hack who will do anything to cover his ass when he looks like he did
something really bad? I figured you might, so I drafted this memorandum to
help you express your outrage at Perrys latest actions. You know, how he
fired 3 members of the Texas Forensic Science Commission on the eve of a
meeting at which the commission would have heard an expert say, in so many
words, that Texas, under the governor's watch, had executed an innocent
man. Even someone who supports the death penalty, as you do, can and
should be up in arms over this. Here's how.

First, just to recap: Cameron Todd Willingham was accused of setting a
fire in Corsicana in 1991 that killed his 3 children. He was convicted on
the testimony of 2 arson experts who said they found evidence the fire had
been intentionally set. Willingham protested his innocence for years and
finally found an ally in January 2004, when Gerald Hurst, an Austin fire
investigator, analyzed the original arson report. Hurst was alarmed at the
lack of hard science and scientific reasoning; his conclusion was that
there had been no arson. The fire had been an accident. Hurst wrote up a
report and faxed it to the Board of Pardons and Paroles, which unanimously
turned Willingham down. Governor Perry did too, denying a stay of
execution. On February 17, 2004, Willingham was executed.

Later that year the Chicago Tribune asked 3 other fire expertsJohn
Lentini, John DeHaan, and Kendall Rylandto analyze the evidence. They
agreed with Hurst that there had been no arson. In 2006 the Innocence
Project hired Lentini and 3 additional expertsDouglas Carpenter, Daniel
Churchward, and David Smithto look at the case. They concluded that "the
evidence used to convict [Willingham] was invalid." Willingham's
conviction and execution were, the report concluded, "a serious
miscarriage of justice."

The Texas Forensic Science Commission was formed in 2005 to look into bad
or negligent forensic science; one of the first cases it vetted was
Willingham's. The FSC hired an additional expert, Craig Beyler, who
concluded just this past August that the investigation of the Willingham
fire "did not comport with" either modern standards or even those from
1992: "The investigators had poor understandings of fire science and
failed to acknowledge or apply the contemporaneous understanding of the
limitations of fire indicators. Their methodologies did not comport with
the scientific method or the process of elimination. A finding of arson
could not be sustained." In other words, the fire was an accident.
Therefore, Willingham didn't set it. Therefore, Willingham was innocent of
setting a fire that killed his 3 children.

Okay, that catches us up to the present. Last month, after the New Yorker
published a long story on Willingham's case that quoted Beyler, Hurst, and
Lentini, Perry was asked about the case, and he said there was plenty of
other evidence that Willingham had killed his kids. "I'm familiar with the
latter-day supposed experts," he said, using air quotes to mock their
expertise. One thing you might do here, Kay, is go over the qualifications
of the "experts" that Perry mocked. Just a thought, but it could be very
effective. Consider Beylers C.V.

He got his Ph.D. in Engineering at Harvard, his M.S. in Mechanical
Engineering at Cornell, his M.Sc. in Fire Safety Engineering from the
University of Edinburgh, and his B.S. in Fire Protection Engineering from
the University of Maryland. Since 1990 he has been the technical director
at Hughes Associates, a world-renowned Baltimore engineering company that
specializes in fireshow they get started, how they spread, how they react
to different materials, how to fight them, how to protect against them.
He's the chair of the International Association for Fire Safety Science.
He's a member of the Society of Fire Protection Engineers Technical
Steering Committee and the National Fire Protection Association's Toxicity
Technical Advisory Committee. He's taught graduate courses in Combustion,
Fire Dynamics, and Fire Chemistry. He's won awards from the Institution of
Fire Engineers, and the Society of Fire Protection Engineers. I would say
that's pretty impressive.

What about the other 7 "latter-day supposed experts"? Glad you asked.
Here's where you could really drive the point home. Hurst got his Ph.D. in
chemistry from Cambridge and has been investigating fires since 1994;
Carpenter has been a fire-protection engineer and investigator since 1996;
Churchward is a fire investigator who has worked as a deputy, firefighter,
and insurance-company investigator since 1972; Lentini has been a
certified fire investigator and chemist since 1978; Smith, a former
detective, has been a certified fire investigator since 1971; DeHaan,
Ph.D., has been an arson criminologist since 1987 and an independent
forensic consultant since 1998; and Ryland is a Louisiana fire chief and
former college professor.

So that's your first line of attack, Senator, and I could see it being a
real doozy if you play it right. But yesterday it got even better. You
don't get handed an opportunity like this every day: 2 days before the FSC
was to hear Beyler himself testify about his reporta report the commission
paid forPerry fired 3 of the 9 members, including its chair, Sam Bassett,
who had been on it since it began. (He also canned Alan Levy, an assistant
district attorney in Tarrant County, and Aliece Watts, who worked in a
forensic lab in Euless.) Their terms had expired on September 1, but Perry
could have given them their pink slips any time over the previous month.

The stinkiest part of it all? Perry replaced Bassett with John Bradley,
the super-prosecutor from Williamson County, whom Perry himself appointed
to his post back in 2001 (he's been elected several times since). Bradley
is known as one of the states toughest prosecutorsin August his office
charged a man who had accidentally killed his toddler by leaving him in a
parked car; the aggrieved father could get a sentence of 20 years. And
Bradley's first act as head of the FSC? Why, it was to cancel Friday's
meeting, saying he needed to catch up on the case.

Let's review: The governor appointed a previous political appointee of his
to head a commission that was looking into whether the governor himself
had overseen the execution of an innocent man, and the appointee canceled
a meeting where it was to hear testimony from an expert who would have
said that, yes, the executed man had committed no crime. Again, you don't
have to be against the death penalty to think that something is terribly
wrong here. Unless you're Rick Perry. Which you're not. Right?

(source: Michael Hall, Texas Monthly)


Texas governor: Executed inmate was 'a monster'

A man put to death in 2004 for killing his three children was "a monster,"
and suggestions that he may have been innocent are anti-death penalty
propaganda, Gov. Rick Perry said Wednesday.

Cameron Todd Willingham's convictions were upheld several times before he
was put to death, and recent media reports looking into whether Willingham
may have been innocent glossed over evidence that showed he murdered his
children, Perry told reporters after addressing Texas Association of
Realtors members at a luncheon.

"Willingham was a monster. He was a guy who murdered his three children,
who tried to beat his wife into an abortion so that he wouldn't have those
kids. Person after person has stood up and testified to facts of this case
that quite frankly you all aren't covering," Perry said.

Willingham was convicted of capital murder for the 1991 deaths of his
children, 2-year-old Amber and 1-year-old twins Karmon and Kameron.
Prosecutors said he set fire to the family's Corsicana home while the
children were inside.

Forensic scientists have called into question arson evidence used to
convict Willingham, who maintained his innocence until his death. John
Jackson, the Navarro County prosecutor who argued the case, still believes
Willingham is guilty, but acknowledges it would have been hard to win a
death sentence without the arson finding.

The governor has been criticized for replacing members of the Texas
Forensic Science Commission just before they were to review a new report
critical of the arson science used to convict Willingham. If the evidence
ultimately proves Willingham did not kill his children, it would be the
first known wrongful execution in Texas.

Perry dismissed suggestions he was trying to influence the commission's
findings, calling the commission members' replacement a matter of
"process." He said capable new members of the panel will move forward with
the investigation.

Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, Perry's rival for the Republican nomination for
governor in 2010, has said that while she supports the death penalty, she
disagrees with Perry's decision to replace the commission members.

She told The Associated Press on Wednesday in Houston that Perry should
have allowed the panel's investigation to go forward to ensure that
Willingham was in fact guilty.

"I don't have the facts. I'm not taking up for Mr. Willingham because I
have no idea. I'm taking up for the process, for the criminal justice
system in our state," Hutchison said.

Hutchison, repeating a point her campaign has been pressing for days, said
Perry's actions were heavy-handed, much like his decision to replace
appointees on university regent boards who didn't back him.

"I think the majority of Texans believe the death penalty is an
appropriate punishment for the crimes that are the state law for the death
penalty. I think every one of the people who believe in the death penalty
would want to know we are using DNA evidence and the best technology in
all the fields to determine if a person is rightfully convicted,"
Hutchison said.

Hutchison's campaign issued a statement saying Perry's handling of the
commission has given liberals ammunition to discredit the death penalty.

A state fire marshal, now deceased, and a local fire investigator ruled
the Willingham case was arson. The investigator stands by the findings.

But a Baltimore-based arson expert hired by the Forensic Science
Commission to study the case, Craig Beyler, concluded that the arson
findings were not scientifically supported and that investigators at the
scene had "poor understandings of fire science."

Perry said he wanted to remind the public of all the facts in the case,
not "one piece of study that everyone is glomming onto and saying

"Getting all tied up in the process here frankly is a deflection of what
people across this state and this country need to be looking at," Perry

At trial, Willingham's wife, Stacy, testified for him during the
punishment phase, denying he ever hurt her. Acquaintances, however, said
she told them he'd beaten her several times, even while she was pregnant.

The commission doesn't have the power to rule on Willingham's guilt or
innocence, but was expected to release a report next year on the validity
of the arson investigation.

(source: Associated Press)


Perry: Washington bad, Willingham prosecution good

Gov. Rick Perry fired up a friendly crowd of real estate agents at a
luncheon that sounded and felt like a campaign rally.

Perry, without mentioning Republican primary opponent Sen. Kay Bailey
Hutchison, railed against federal spending and lack of federal border

He told the luncheon crowd of the Texas Association of Realtors on
Wednesday that Texas needs a leader with executive experience. But talking
with reporters later, Perry returned to the now-disputed 2004 Texas
execution of Cameron Todd Willingham.

Perry said numerous courts found Willingham guilty and appealed to
reporters not to be misled by what he called anti-death penalty

An expert's report has suggested arson may not have occurred in the case.
Arson was the cornerstone of the Willingham prosecution.

(source: Associated Press)


Why we must march

On Saturday, Oct. 24, the Campaign to End the Death Penalty will march
toward the Texas Capitol demanding an immediate end to capital punishment.
On Saturday, thousands of gay-rights activists marched on Washington to
demand equality for all.

What causes these people to march against injustice when they face
enormous headwinds of hostile public opinion? Even Massachusetts Rep.
Barney Frank, an outspoken gay-rights supporter, called the National
Equality March "at best, a waste of time."

Lawyers and politicians urge activists to trust the law alone to achieve
their goals. Yet it was not law but rather soldiers on the march who
crushed the Confederacy and overthrew slavery. It was not Brown v. Board
of Education but a letter from a Birmingham jail that broke through the
bondage. Thurgood Marshall believed that civil rights marches were a
distraction and that true change would come from the courts. Yet it was
images of fierce dogs and fire hoses not the proclamations of old men in
black that silenced the white sheets and burning crosses of the Old
South. Women marched for and won the right to vote. Workers went on strike
and won rights we all enjoy today. And each time a group has given up on
activism and trusted only the power of the law, it has seen its influence
recede and deferred its dreams for another day.

As we age, we become more conservative in our attitudes and our beliefs.
It is easy to become cynical about the possibility of achieving change
through activism because we have been disappointed so many times before.
Hundreds of thousands marched against Bushs war, but bombs still fell on
Baghdad. The masses of Iran rose up against Ahmadinejads thievery, but
still he holds power.

Yet what have we become when we view injustice in the face of popular
movements as a reason to march less rather than more? Today, unions have
lost membership and power the more they have bought into the institutions
of law and government. Women and black and brown and gay citizens face
calls for moderation so as not to threaten prospects for the next
election. We have become interest groups rather than movements, and we are
told to wait for justice another 3 years, and another, and another.

Frederick Douglass once said, "If there is no struggle there is no
progress. … Power concedes nothing without a demand."

Do not give up. Have hope, have pride and, in solidarity, march on.

(source: Daily Texan; Guest Column; Daniel Lenhoff is a law student)


CRIMINAL JUSTICE—-More arson understanding needed in courts, judge
says—-In wake of Willingham case, state integrity unit may add fire
science study.

A judge on the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, which has the power to
overturn death sentences and halt executions, wants to improve the
criminal justice system's understanding of fire science in the wake of a
possibly flawed arson investigation in the Cameron Todd Willingham case.

Willingham was executed in 2004 for killing his three young children by
setting fire to his Corsicana house.

Judge Barbara Hervey said her interest in the issue was piqued by recent
reports that Cameron's conviction relied on bad science, now-disproved
theories and personal bias from arson investigators.

"Science progresses all the time, and we need to have a better
understanding of fire science," Hervey said Tuesday.

Last week, Hervey ventured to the state archives building to read
Willingham's court file, which included the first report by Austin
chemist Gerald Hurst to question the 1991 arson ruling.

The Court of Criminal Appeals dismissed that appeal, filed 4 days before
Willingham's execution, ruling that Hurst's findings should have been
raised earlier.

Hervey, who joined the court in 2001, said she came away from her reading
with no conclusions about Willingham's case but with a desire to have the
Texas Criminal Justice Integrity Unit investigate fire science.

Hervey created the unit last year to improve the justice system in areas
such as police interrogation, eyewitness identification and evidence

The panel includes politicians, lawyers, law enforcement members and legal

"Arson is not something (courts) deal with on a regular basis," Hervey
said. "The one thing I think we can accomplish is to at least educate
people" about improvements in fire science and arson investigative

The integrity unit, Hervey said, would complement work being done by the
Texas Forensic Science Commission.

The commission made national news in August when a fire scientist it
hired, Craig Beyler, concluded that the arson ruling in the Willingham
fire was based on investigative techniques that barely resembled science.

2 weeks ago, the commission made news again when it postponed discussion
of Beyler's report after Gov. Rick Perry replaced its chairman and several
other members.

In other news about the case:

The recently ousted chairman of the forensic science commission, Austin
lawyer Sam Bassett, accused Perry aides of trying to pressure him over the
Willingham investigation.

Bassett said lawyers for Perry, during private meetings in February and
March, argued that the Willingham investigation exceeded the commission's
authority and that other investigations should receive a higher priority.

"They said this isn't the kind of investigation the statute contemplated,"
Bassett said. "I don't know what their intent was, but I know after the
meetings I did feel pressured about the investigation."

Bassett said he told the aides, Deputy General Counsel Mary Anne Wiley and
former General Counsel David Cabrales, that the investigation by Beyler
hired months earlier would continue.

Wiley, a key Perry adviser on criminal justice issues, also sits on
Hervey's integrity unit.

Perry spokeswoman Allison Castle said the aides asked routine questions
and were not trying to influence the investigation.

"Members of the governor's staff … are expected to stay in routine
contact with agencies and boards and commissions," she said, noting that
similar meetings were held with Bassett's predecessor.

The Senate Criminal Justice Committee has invited the science
commission's new chairman, Williamson County District Attorney John
Bradley, to give an update on the Willingham inquiry at a Nov. 10 public
hearing in Austin.

"There's obviously a lot of interest in this case, and we'll want to see
whether he intends to pursue the report by (Beyler)," said Chairman John
Whitmire, D-Houston.

Bradley declined to comment Tuesday, saying: "Out of respect for Senator
Whitmire and his committee and my fellow commission members, I will hold
my thoughts until the committee meets."

(source: Austin American-Statesman)


Rick Perry's Willingham Scandal Could Cost Him His Job

Rick Perry is losing the message battle on the Willingham case. In
elections, it's vital that you control the message. Control what people
are saying about you. You define the issues.

With that in mind, I might suggest that Rick Perry's move last week to
scuttle the search for truth in the Willingham case was more than just a
desperate attempt to avoid an awkward conversation. It may have been a
rare political blunder on his part.

Let's take a stroll down Rick Perry's press clipping of late:

* He's been accused of breaking federal law by allowing the state to
execute an innocent man.

* He's seen his weak excuse dismissed as transparent by the two largest
newspapers in the state, us and the Houston Chronicle.

* And don't forget criticism from the San Antonio Express-News (The
explanation from the governor's office that the commissioners' terms
expired on Sept. 1 doesn't hold water.) and others, detailed nicely by
Steve Hall on the StandDown Texas blog.

* And then there are the national media. No one is buying Perry's story,
not USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, the Atlantic, the New York Times,
the New Yorker, CNN etc …

Some choice headlines:

* Texas Gov.'s Move Putting Death Penalty Case Back in Spotlight (Wall
Street Journal)

* Forensic panel members urged Perry against shakeup (Austin American

* Texas execution probe: Perry ignored advice on forensics chair

* Smoke screen: Panel's shake-up plays politics with justice (Houston

* Rick Perry Covers His Collusion In Faulty Execution (The Atlantic)

* Rick Perry May have Violated Federal Law in Willingham Execution (Burnt
Orange Report)

* The Cowardice of Rick Perry (Atlantic Online)

In fact, if you Google just the words "Rick Perry," these are the top news
headlines you get:

* Forensics commission urged Perry to keep chairman Houston Chronicle

* Rick Perry acted against the advice of members of a science panel
investigating whether Texas executed an innocent man when he decided to
replace their …

* In '07, Perry took 78 days to reappoint forensic panelists Austin

* Texas execution probe: Perry ignored advice on forensics chair

* Texas Gov. Rick Perry, Dallas Cowboys, Texas Forensic Commission Fort
Worth Star Telegram

If the hearing had happened, the storyline would be much different. And
RIck Perry might still be in control.

(source: Dallas Morning News Texas Death Penalty blog, Michael Landauer)


Support for death penalty remains strong

Despite swirls of controversy over everything from the recent botched
execution in Ohio to whether Texas executed an innocent man, support for
the death penalty in America remains relatively unchanged, according to a
new Gallup crime survey. About 2/3 of Americans support capital punishment
for murder, a figure which has remained fairly stable over the years.

The highest measure of support was 80 % in September 1994 while the lowest
was 42 % in 1966.

According to the latest poll, 59 % of Americans think that within the last
5 years, an innocent person has been executed.

(source: Dallas Morning News)