No more Texas governors for president

“Next time I tell you someone from Texas should not be president of the United States, please pay attention.” - Molly Ivins
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Posts tagged "Texas Forensic Science Commission"

When MSNBC’s Brian Williams asked Rick Perry during a recent GOP debate if he ever worried that his state had executed an innocent man on Perry’s watch, the three-term Texas governor didn’t hesitate: “No sir, I’ve never struggled with that at all.” Maybe he should have: As Steve Mims and Joe Bailey detail in their new documentary, Incendiary, the state’s 2004 execution of Cameron Todd Willingham for the murder of his two children was based in large part on arson science that had been thoroughly rejected by the scientific community—something that Perry had been informed of before the “ultimate justice” was served.

Inspired by David Grann’s masterful 2009 New Yorker story about the case, the Austin filmmakers set out to chronicle the flawed forensics behind the execution. They soon found themselves in the middle of a pitched political battle involving Perry’s apparent maneuvering to put a thumb on the scales with the Texas Forensic Science Commission. Mims and Bailey spoke recently with Mother Jones about the Willingham case, arson science, and how they navigated the politics of capital punishment.

The [Texas] Tribune sat down with Bassett on Thursday to discuss his views on why the governor replaced him, his suspicions that political motivations were behind it, why he believes the commission had the authority to conduct its investigation, and why he argues it is critical for the Texas justice system that the commission finish what it started under his leadership.

And this is where Perry fails as a Christian, by any Christian standard. Christianity does not exist for the innocent; it exists for the guilty — for the hope that the guilty may be redeemed. But Rick Perry does not live for that hope, either for the condemned or for himself. Seven years ago, a man named Cameron Todd Willingham was executed in Texas for lighting the fire that killed his three children. His is a famous case, the subject of a documentary, a Frontline report, and a New Yorker article by David Grann that all ably detailed the wishful thinking and willful misinterpretations of the arson investigators who testified for the prosecution. The evidence that landed Willingham in the death chamber has never been able to hold up under scrutiny, and activists opposed to the death penalty have offered its flaws as proof that the death penalty can never be applied without the possibility of error. And, of course, the application of the death penalty with the possibility of error is a grotesquerie, a moral monstrosity that has no place in a putatively “Christian nation.”

More to the point, it has no place in the presidential campaign of a putatively “Christian president” like Rick Perry.

And here’s the thing: Perry knows this.

Should a Christian politician like Rick Perry also be held to the standards of Christian conscience? And if he has failed to meet those standards, should he get a pass when he incorporates his Christianity into his campaign? The question of guilt and innocence as it pertains to the Texas death chamber is not merely a legal matter, much less a political one; it is a moral matter that is close to the heart of the Christian cause. That Rick Perry has done everything within his power to duck the question reveals a man who either does not have the courage of his convictions, or who only understands convictions that are friendly to the cause of his own ambition.

As Gov. Rick Perry touts his tough-on-crime policies on the national political stage, the case of Cameron Todd Willingham will continue to be scrutinized. Scientists have raised questions about whether Willingham set the blaze that killed his three daughters and led to his 2004 execution.

It’s not just that the science says Willingham is innocent of the crime he was accused of, it’s that the science says that there was no crime in the first place. And that’s precisely the matter that the Texas Forensic Science Commission was set to explore when Perry stepped in and put a stop to it.

he simple fact of the matter is, with all of the political reporters following Perry on the campaign trial, it seems that none have thought to put a question about Cameron Todd Willingham to Perry directly. This is despite the fact that death penalty issues have historical salience in presidential elections, despite the fact that the magnitude of the miscarriage of justice in the Willingham case is off the charts where physical science is concerned, despite the fact that Perry’s involvement reeks of political meddling, despite the fact that the matter has received rich coverage in the past and despite the fact that events of the past three weeks have been more than adequate to provide a springboard into the matter for cagey journalists. Or if they have, the news organizations for which they work haven’t found it worth the mention.