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Rick Perry: The presidential candidate dogged by a ghost?

Willingham Texas Gov. Rick Perry may want to run for president. So let me reintroduce you a former constituent of his, Cameron Todd Willingham

Perry, who may soon announce his presidential bid, oversaw the 2004 execution of Willingham, a father of three convicted for the apparent arson murder of his young daughters. Problem was, the evidence used to prove Willingham set the fire that killed his children was based on shoddy science and obsolete investigation techniques, facts that were brought to Perry's attention before Willingham's death. Declaring his innocence to the end, Willingham was executed 12 years after his children's deaths.  

The New Yorker published a lengthy piece in 2009 detailing the whole affair, a depressing portrayal of a government more interested in self-preservation than in serving justice. Most chilling was the Texas justice system's seeming indifference to condemned killers the moment they land on death row. Here's a disturbing excerpt:

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals was known for upholding convictions even when overwhelming exculpatory evidence came to light. In 1997, DNA testing proved that sperm collected from a rape victim did not match Roy Criner, who had been sentenced to ninety-nine years for the crime. Two lower courts recommended that the verdict be overturned, but the Court of Criminal Appeals upheld it, arguing that Criner might have worn a condom or might not have ejaculated. Sharon Keller, who is now the presiding judge on the court, stated in a majority opinion, “The new evidence does not establish innocence.” In 2000, George W. Bush pardoned Criner. (Keller was recently charged with judicial misconduct, for refusing to keep open past five o’clock a clerk’s office in order to allow a last-minute petition from a man who was executed later that night.)

On October 31, 1997, the Court of Criminal Appeals denied Willingham's writ.

Another one:

Without having visited the fire scene, [fire investigator Dr. Gerald Hurstor] says, it was impossible to pinpoint the cause of the blaze. But, based on the evidence, he had little doubt that it was an accidental fire -- one caused most likely by the space heater or faulty electrical wiring. It explained why there had never been a motive for the crime. Hurst concluded that there was no evidence of arson, and that a man who had already lost his three children and spent twelve years in jail was about to be executed based on “junk science.” Hurst wrote his report in such a rush that he didn’t pause to fix the typos....

Hurst’s findings had helped to exonerate more than ten people. Hurst even reviewed the scientific evidence against Willingham’s friend Ernest Willis, who had been on death row for the strikingly similar arson charge. Hurst says, “It was like I was looking at the same case. Just change the names.” In his report on the Willis case, Hurst concluded that not “a single item of physical evidence . . . supports a finding of arson.” A second fire expert hired by Ori White, the new district attorney in Willis’s district, concurred. After seventeen years on death row, Willis was set free. “I don’t turn killers loose,” White said at the time. “If Willis was guilty, I’d be retrying him right now. And I’d use Hurst as my witness. He’s a brilliant scientist.” White noted how close the system had come to murdering an innocent man. “He did not get executed, and I thank God for that,” he said.

On February 13th, four days before Willingham was scheduled to be executed, he got a call from Reaves, his attorney. Reaves told him that the fifteen members of the Board of Pardons and Paroles, which reviews an application for clemency and had been sent Hurst’s report, had made their decision.

"What is it?" Willingham asked.

"I’m sorry," Reaves said. "They denied your petition."

Perry denied Willingham a stay of execution, an action that may have been forgivable in retrospect had the governor expressed a sincere desire to review the facts of the case given the overwhelming post-execution evidence that Texas made an irreversible mistake. On the contrary, Perry frustrated an investigation by the Texas Forensic Science Commission, replacing three of its members days before the board was set to discuss a report that cast serious doubt on the evidence used to send Willingham to the lethal injection gurney. The meeting was canceled. 

The Times wrote two editorialsexpressing dismay Willingham's execution and Perry's obstruction of the investigation. Still, the case faded from the national discussion and Perry went on in 2010 to win his third full term as governor.

Texas executes far more people than any other state, so it's understandable that Lone Star State Republicans would give their governor a pass. But a Perry candidacy might prod conservatives in less execution-friendly states (such as, say, New Hampshire, which last knotted a noose in 1939) to answer for his apparent indifference to profound injustice.

Texas let Perry off the hook; the rest of the nation may not be so forgiving.


GOP rivals go easy on Romney in first major debate

Editorial: Waiting for a death-penalty debate

Editorial: Making forensic science scientific

Editorial: The execution of Cameron Todd Willingham

-- Paul Thornton

Photo: Cameron Todd Willingham. Credit: Associated Press.



Comments () | Archives (31)

The comments to this entry are closed.


....Willingham's last words were not "I am an innocent man." They were "I hope you rot in hell, bitch," directed toward his wife whom he had beaten many times even while she was pregnant to try to cause a miscarriage... this guy was guilty and had several appeals at the state and federal levels...

Also watch the news video on this blog site if you think Texas killed an innocent man....



Hahahahahahahahah. The liberals are getting nervous!!! Did the Oblaba administration sanction this investigation?? Me thinks so!! If this paper spent a quarter of the time they have on just this article, looking into the current administrations duplicity, perhaps we could take their critique seriously. I just see nervous liberals who know very well that Obomo is so vulnerable it's not even funny. Hahahahaha!!!


M.B. I know you and your 'cult' are obsessed with the 'Evil Black Man' president, but can you at least TRY to stay on topic? If someone posted a cake recipe some nut would be on here complaining that Obama and the Liberals can't bake. You're sounding way too much like the nut you almost certainly are. Oh, and it would make you sound a lot smarter and more clever if you threw in a few more ridiculous attempts to make fun of the Presidents name. That's always real witty.


Perry has no chance, with this ghost or not.

P J Evans

Hector, were you there, or did someone else tell you that's what they heard he said?
ALL the evidence says Willingham was innocent, and was railroaded by, among others, the current governor of Texas, who isn't qualified for any job more powerful than that (and it isn't a powerful job).


PJ....actually I was there....he gave me a slight kiss on the cheek and whispered in my ear-Hector, make sure before your day of reckoning comes you learn to pronounce the word "corpsman" so people don't think your an uneducated moron...


This article makes no sense and is a classic example of how the liberal-left in this country is totally disconnected. What makes the author think that execution of this scumbag would hurt Perry with the electorate? On what planet do liberals live? Dukakis got creamed for letting a criminal go free, not for executing one.


"What makes the author think that execution of this scumbag would hurt Perry with the electorate? On what planet do liberals live?" Ok. Read slowly and carefully, because despite your ill-deserved chosen moniker, you clearly aren't big on reading comprehension or critical thinking: THE ARTICLE GIVES CLEAR EVIDENCE THAT THIS MAN WAS INNOCENT ACCORDING TO THE DEFINITION OF 'INNOCENCE' THAT WE USE IN A FREE AND JUST SOCIETY. THEREFORE, it might just rile a few people in the electorate. Get it? Okay, let's try once more... IT IS ENTIRELY WITHIN REASON TO SUSPECT THAT THEY EXECUTED AN INNOCENT MAN. And more to the point, Gov. Perry was not concerned with looking into the situation, but rather was ramming the guy's execution through the system as quick as possible WITHOUT ANY REGARD TO INFORMATION THAT SUGGESTED HIS INNOCENCE. Whether or not he was a 'good guy' or how he treated his wife are irrelevant issues in the eyes of the law, and rightfully so. That someone is a 'bad guy' is no evidence that he burned his own family to death, especially when scientific analysis claims THIS WAS AN ACCIDENTAL FIRE. Is any of this sinking in yet, "Aristotle"? (P.S. Please change your name. It's a disgrace to the philosophical community).


A desperate attempt at spin doctoring by a Perry-hating journalist. I dont know much about Rick Perry, but he must be squeaky clean for a clearly adversarial "journalist" to have to rely on desperate bullcrap like this slanted garbage.

Is that the WORST you can come up with on Rick Perry?


Is the Times ignorant of the facts or merely indifferent in its rush to spread liberal propaganda?

Liberal Texan

Isn't is amazing how the idiot conservatives will fight to the death to protect the life of a fetus, but don't care the slightest bit about an innocent man being executed by the state?

You'd think these so-called "Christians" would want to follow Jesus' teachings, but they don't care about what Jesus would have done. They just like killing. Perry included. He is singlehandedly responsible for more state-sponsored killings than probably any man in Western society today.

Dudley Sharp

There is no evidence of Willingham's innocence.

What many of the experts are saying, today, is that we don't know if it was arson or an accident. If arson, then the flashover destryed the evidence of arson.

However, some tohers till say it was arson.

There is quite a bit of evidence for guilt.

"Cameron Todd Willingham: Another Media Meltdown", A Collection of Articles

walter glen stockton

Good Article....This Case is a mess, involves the lack of Prosecution of the department of justice, tdcj, on richard ingraham, (ennis tx??) the nearby texas town...50 years death rowed...about 150 death row inmates died while richard ingraham, languished there, stalking Americas Citizenry with transmittered imagery froms his cell....The holdup was---scandal---richard is Scheduled to be deads from Archery, My Jobs..Money Is the motivation by perry, bush.., My Money--, --Imagine__....hes dangerous brutal, the most criminal person in the Worlds.....The Innocent Project Does Help on this Case...The Pentagon, 703-571-3343, Department Of Defense..Prosecution is Required ASAP...


AZ66: You have the problem with reading comprehension. My point was the ELECTORATE. No voter is going to give a damn about this issue. So you think that if Perry were to be the GOP candidate, Obama would spend his time defending an executed criminal? Do you think that would become a centerpiece of the campaign? You live in La-La Land if you think that.



Christ's last words were "My God, my God. Why have you forsaken me?"

The Romans said those words proved He was guilty, too.

What matters are facts. Where are yours?


Because Perry didn't stay the execution he is unfit for the Presidency? That is quite a large leap, even for a Liberal newspaper. And PJ Evans - to say that he is unfit for a powerful job by alluding that the Governor of Texas isn't a big job clearly highlights your lack of education and understanding of what is and is not important. Do you not realize that Texas has the 20th largest economy in the world? That its economy is surpassing California's at a rapid clip? All of the growth in Texas (and most at California's expense) has been under his watch. And Liberal Texan - you should move as soon as possible to a state that doesn't offend your delicate sensibilities. Maybe California is for you. I hope so, anyway, because you won't be missed.


Wasn't Perry also threatening to have Texas secede from the Union? How is that not treason?


Rayy: You need to look up what Perry actually said. That aside, so for you free speech is treason? Saying something negative about the government is treason? Hmmm, the jails will be filled with liberals, I am afraid, if that's the case.


Hector: May I suggest that you also learn the difference between "your" and "you're" so people don't think you're an uneducated moron.


….thank you Larry…but please remember…I am just a wayward member of the Lumpen Proletariat not a former editor of the Harvard Law Review….

Bob Horner

Lumpen indeed.

Bob Horner

Lumpen indeed.

Bob Horner

But then I repeat myself.


Bob- Now that we know with your CSUN education you learned two words of German perhaps you could comment about Paul Thornton’s piece on Cameron Todd Willingham. Is it smarmy and gratuitous or is it incredibly insightful and nuanced so that only a true intellect (such as yourself) can discern? Tell us Bob, Please…and while you’re at it, I could use a hug...


Too bad you don't bother to point out the HUGE amount of evidence separate from the forensic science stuff that led the jury to convict. Jurors, who have spoken to the media, have said they would have convicted anyway. The guy was guilty.

Patricia the Texan

Damn right liberals are getting nervous. Rick Perry is a scary man. I'll admit I'm afraid of him without shame or hesitation.

I've been to the Texas Forensic Science meetings, watched them online, and keep up with this news. I won't even go into whether Willingham was innocent; just the fact that Perry is blatantly hampering the investigation is enough to make him unfit for the Presidency. Not to mention the $25 BILLION deficit he has our state in, nor the sweetheart deals his makes with his friends while cutting salaries and positions of some of the most important members of our society: the educators who teach our kids.

Rick "DO YOU KNOW WHO I AM?" Perry is dangerous. I'd actually prefer vacuous-minded Bachmann or Palin over him, only because they might be too stupid to use the power they'd be given.

james b

Claims that there was other evidence sufficient to convict Mr. Willingham are factually incorrect. This is because:
1. it was the forensic evidence which the state used as the center piece of their case, in fact, without it, there was no evidence that a crime was even committed.

2. the "other evidence" vaguely referred to consists of discredited testimony from a jail house informant who has repeatedly inquired into whether or not the statute of limitations on perjury has ran out with regards to his statements in court. While the state called other witnesses who gave contradictory information about Mr. Willingham's testimony after the fire, none of it spoke to the occurrence of an actual crime.

also, the point about the forensic science just showing that the original analysis done at trial was inconclusive is both incorrect and irrelevant. The consensus amongst forensic scientists who have studied the case is that there is no evidence to suggest an arson occurred--while one could make the claim that "this doesn't prove there was no arson," that argument makes little sense given that it is impossible to prove absence of anything "conclusively" by this definition of the term. Second, the point is irrelevant because, if its true that the forensic evidence was inconclusive, that would be sufficient to render a not guilty verdict in the original trial given that the standard of proof there is absence of reasonable doubt. If that is the case, then Mr. Willingham should never have been convicted in the first place.


What madness is it, that inspires writers to talk about Rick Perry as a presidential candidate FOR THE COUNTRY HE WANTS TO SECEDE FROM?

Scooter Livingston

I see Dudley The DUD Sharp has oozed out from the rock he resides under to post his neo-fascist pro-death garbage. To Dudley the DUD, anybody who actually gets exonerated is still guilty in his own little mind. No doubt Dudley is glad that Perry covered up his murder of Willingham by stopping that meeting. WHAT WAS PERRY AFRAID OF, DUD?

Perry is a bloodthirsty piece of garbage and people like Dudley the Dud are no better.

Juanita L. Beech

Hector, I'll give you a hug anytime.................

Ron A. Zajac

Remember this: Perry stands a chance in part *because* he and his handlers know the psychology of the American voters: They want a man to be President who 1) presents the image of a fundamentally decent person, while 2) knowing in their deepest hearts he's really a psychopath. Make no mistake: This will work for New Hampshirites as much as for anybody.

This is the new winning profile for 21st Century candidates. Apparently.



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