That's the title of Dan Turner's post at the Los Angeles Times' Opinon L.A. blog on the case of Todd Willingham.
Gov. Rick Perry is the kind of politician many Texans seem to like: straight-talking, rigidly Christian, a bedrock conservative. His Lone Star State popularity apparently deluded him into believing he'd have a shot at national glory, yet when the rest of the country got a close look at him during his run for the GOP presidential nomination, it became clear that all wasn't quite right with the leather-faced former cotton farmer. It wasn't just his frequent gaffes and memory lapses; it was that at key times he didn't seem quite all there mentally, such as during a debate in Orlando, Fla., when his speech was so slurred that pundits questioned whether he had suffered a stroke or had been drinking beforehand.
Perry's popularity dipped at home after he dropped out of the race, but something else lurking in his past could cause worse than a downturn in his poll numbers. Perry, it turns out, not only stood by while his state's executioners took the life of a man widely believed by forensics scientists to have been innocent, he later acted to prevent evidence of that innocence from seeing the light of day. He oversees a state whose procedures for reviewing inmate appeals are a national disgrace and that may, if the case of Cameron Todd Willingham is ever given a fair hearing, prove to be the home of the first execution of a factually and legally innocent person since the advent of the modern judicial system.
Willingham was executed on Feb. 17 after Perry, despite ample new evidence of innocence, refused to grant a stay.
Fast-forward to 2009. A public outcry over the Willingham case had helped prompt the formation of the Texas Forensic Science Commission, which hired a top fire expert named Craig Beyler of Hughes Associates to investigate the case. Like Hurst, Beyler was ruthlessly critical of the work of the original investigators and produced a withering report disputing their findings. Yet when the commission prepared to meet to discuss his report, Perry's top attorneys began questioning Beyler's hiring and the cost of the probe. Finally, just two days before the meeting was scheduled, Perry replaced the chairman and two other board members, and the new chair immediately canceled the meeting.
Unfortunately for Perry, his attempts to thwart the investigation haven't entirely succeeded. Willingham's family has petitioned the Board of Pardons and Parole to hold a public hearing and, possibly, issue the executed man a posthumous pardon. Since this is the same board that refused to delay Willingham's execution in the face of strong evidence of innocence, it's hard to work up much optimism for a fair result. But the pressure on Perry and other Texas officials is building. In January, the Texas fire marshall will convene an expert panel to review suspect arson cases, presumably including Willingham's.
Perry can stall and dance, but eventually the truth will out. If the vampire from Paint Creek is still in office when that happens, that should put him out.
David Grann's September 2009 New Yorker article is noted here. Steve Mills and Maurice Possley first reported on the case in a 2004 Chicago Tribune series on junk science. The December 9, 2004 report was titled,"Man executed on disproved forensics."
The Innocence Project has a Todd Willingham resource page which provides a concise overview of the Willingham case with links to all relevant documents.