death penalty news—-TEXAS

Oct. 13


GOP adversaries blast Perry for handling of forensics panel

2 of Gov. Rick Perrys Republican adversaries in the 2010 governor's race
hammered Perry on Tuesday for carrying out a shake-up of a state
commission probing a possibly flawed arson investigation that led to the
2004 execution of Cameron Todd Willingham.

U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, Perry's leading opponent in the March 2
Republican primary, accused Perry of "trying to ramrod a covering-up" by
removing 3 members of the Texas Forensic Science Commission 2 days before
a critical meeting.

Houston-area GOP activist Debra Medina, who is also challenging Perry,
used even stronger language, saying the states longest-serving governor
"gutted the panel" and is behaving "like a tyrant" with an
"off-with-their-heads attitude."

But Perry spokeswoman Allison Castle issued a strongly worded rebuttal
defending the governor's actions in the Willingham case. The unemployed
Corsicana mechanic was executed in 2004 for setting a house fire that
killed his 2 daughters.

If Perry's rivals "oppose the death penalty for someone who murdered his 3
children, beat his wife while she was pregnant with twins in an effort to
force an abortion, repeatedly changed his story, who confessed and whose
last words were an obscenity laced tirade aimed at his ex wife, and whose
conviction was upheld numerous times over the course of more than a
decade, including nine times by federal courts then they should just say
so," Castle said in an e-mailed statement.

"Do they think he was innocent? A jury, along with state and federal
courts believed he was guilty of murder."

Possible vulnerability

Nevertheless, the statements from Perry's opponents implicitly signal
their belief that Perry may be vulnerable on the issue, particularly if an
inquiry concludes that an innocent man was executed on the governor'
watch. Noted arson expert Craig Beyler of Baltimore, in a report prepared
for the commission, said the investigation relied on outmoded concepts and
could not sustain a finding of arson.

Perry's dismissals 2 days before Beyler was to appear have drawn national
media attention and charges from critics that he was attempting to
undercut the commission to avoid potentially embarrassing findings.

The governor said he was acting to fill expired terms and dismisses
assertions that he was trying to interfere with the commissions work.

In another facet of the case, Perry has also confronted criticism for not
releasing records about his decision-making in rejecting an 11th-hour
request from Willingham's attorney to postpone the execution. Willingham's
lawyer faxed Perry an analysis by Austin-based expert Gerald Hurst, who
also challenged the arson investigation.

Defending death penalty

In an interview with Dallas talk show host Mark Davis on WBAP/820 AM,
Hutchison described herself as a "steadfast supporter of the death
penalty" but added: "I want to make sure that we have every technological
advance in evidence, to assure that we are executing a person who is
actually guilty, and the right person.

"The fact that this panel was going forward to try to determine if there
is now new technical evidence on whether a person is an arsonist or had an
accident in a fire is very important," she said. "And I just think the
governor made a mistake in trying to ramrod a covering-up of what might be
more evidence for the future."

Medina, former chairwoman of the Wharton County Republican Party, said
that while "there are some crimes so heinous the death penalty is the only
just punishment, we must protect human life.

"That means suspending the sentence where evidence indicates that there is
a shadow of doubt," she said. "Governor Perry apparently had the
opportunity to do that in this case. He chose not to."

Medina also assailed Perry for the commission shake-up. "If the governor
cared about justice, he'd work hard to ensure that the panel's work is
completed in all due haste, that all the evidence is considered," she

"This constant changing of the guard when he doesn't like the findings is
more evidence that the governor behaves more and more like a tyrant, 'off
with their heads when people dont agree with him," she said.

(source: Fort Worth Star-Telegram)


Man convicted in spree that killed 5 loses appeal

A former security guard condemned for a shooting rampage in which his
ex-wife and 4 other people were killed lost a federal appeal Tuesday of
his conviction and death sentence.

The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected arguments from Coy Wayne
Wesbrook, 51, who was convicted of a November 1997 spree that left 5 dead
at an apartment complex in Channelview, just east of Houston.

Earlier this year, the same court had allowed Wesbrook to move forward
with his appeal contending that his trial lawyer was deficient, that an
undercover informant was improperly used to obtain incriminating
information from him while he was in jail and that his trial judge acted
improperly by meeting privately with prosecutors.

But in its ruling Tuesday, a 3-judge panel of the New Orleans-based
appeals court turned down each of the claims, saying the outcome of
Wesbrook's case wasn't unreasonable in light of the facts, the evidence
presented and the application of law.

Wesbrook's ex-wife, Gloria Jean Coons, 32, was shot and killed at the
apartment where she lived. Also killed were Antonio Cruz, 35; Anthony Ray
Rogers, 41; Diana Ruth Money, 43; and Kelly Hazlip, 28.

Don Vernay, Wesbrook's appeals attorney, said he would ask the U.S.
Supreme Court to review the case, insisting trial lawyers made "egregious

"This is a big disappointment," he said. "The other problem is, of course,
you've got five victims. It makes things a little more problematic.

"We'll keep at it. That's all we can do."

Testimony at his capital murder trial showed that Wesbrook and Coons were
married in 1995 and divorced the following year, but continued seeing each
other and began living together again. He moved out in August 1997.

Wesbrook testified that he hoped to reconcile and went to see Coons 3
months later at her apartment. The 4 other people were present when he

Defense attorneys had tried to persuade jurors that Coons provoked
Wesbrook by having sex with 2 of the men. Wesbrook said he tried to leave
but Cruz took his keys, so he went to his truck, got his hunting rifle and
returned to get his keys. He said he was taunted and after someone threw a
beer at him, the rifle "went off," according to court documents.

Then he went outside and waited for police to show up. He told jurors he
didn't intend to kill anyone, and just "lost it." Evidence showed Coons
was the last to be shot.

Wesbrook's trial was interrupted briefly when prosecutors accused him of
trying to have 5 more people killed, including another ex-wife and several
witnesses in the case.

Earlier unsuccessful appeals argued Wesbrook was mentally impaired and
under U.S. Supreme Court rulings should be ineligible for the death

He does not have an execution date.

(source: Associated Press)


What He Said—-Publius on Rick Perry's attempt to short-circuit an
investigation of the Willingham case:

By now, you're probably familiar with the New Yorker article showing that
Cameron Todd Willingham was almost certainly wrongly executed for arson
and murder. In 2005, after the execution, Texas established a commission
to investigate forensic errors, and the commission started reviewing the
Willingham case. In the course of its review, the commission hired a
nationally recognized fire expert who ultimately wrote a "scathing report"
concluding that the arson investigation was a joke.

The expert was originally set to testify about his report on Friday,
October 2. On Sept. 30, however, Perry suddenly replaced three members of
the panel, including the chair, against their wishes. The new chair
promptly canceled the hearing. More recently, Perry replaced a 4th member
(he can only appoint four — other state officials appoint the remaining 5

What's amazing is not so much that Perry replaced the panel members, but
that he felt secure enough to be so brazenly corrupt about it. It's a sad
reflection on the state of politics in Texas that a governor could commit
such blatant whitewashing 2 days before the hearing.

Of course, his motive is fairly clear. Perry contributed to the execution
of an innocent person. And the formal recognition that Texas executed an
innocent man would trigger a massive political earthquake — one that
would clarify to an inattentive public the utter barbarity and immorality
of Texas's criminal justice system.

So yes, I can understand Perry's motives. But it doesn't change the fact
that he is acting in a profoundly immoral way.

Yes, I'm opposed to the death penalty. But even if you're not, you can't
possibly think that it's okay to avoid investigating whether your state's
forensic methods risk putting innocent people in jail, or sending them to
their death. No matter how strongly you favor the death penalty, I'm sure
that you agree that its purpose is not to execute people; it's to execute
justice. A value which Rick Perry seems determined to butcher.

(source: Megan McArdle, The Atlantic)