blogadmin | 12 February, 2010 15:42
No one can say Texas Gov. Rick Perry isn't a traditionalist.
He's treading a time-tested path in responding to tough questions about an execution carried out on his watch -- Delay!
Whether Perry's tactic diverts voters' attention long enough to ensure his nomination for governor may depend in part on a campaign by death penalty opponents to keep the issue front and center.
Perry's shakeup of the state Forensic Science Commission, including installation of a political ally as chairman, was designed to put off until after the March 2 primary potentially damaging disclosures about dated arson-investigation techniques that sent Todd Willingham to the execution chamber in 2004 for a fatal fire that might have been accidental in origin, as Willingham claimed all along.
The governor's hand-picked chairman has used bureaucratic bullying to keep the commission from taking up an independent report it commissioned about forensic techniques used in the Willingham case. Chairman John Bradley finally promised scientists they will discuss the Willingham report, but not until it was clear it wouldn't happen before their next meeting -- April 23.
By then, Perry hopes to have lulled voters into a false sense of confidence in him long enough to deflect Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison's challenge for the Republican gubernatorial nomination.
Among the groups working to spoil Perry's plan to bury voters' heads in the sand is the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, which seeks to keep the Willingham case in the headlines during the weeks leading up to primary.
The coalition is calling for a statewide day of action against wrongful convictions and executions on Wednesday, February 17, the six-year anniversary of Willingham's execution.
"Serious questions surround the circumstances of the fire that led to the deaths of his three young daughters in 1991," says Kristin Houlé, executive director of the Austin-based coalition. "Nine fire experts -- including one hired by the Texas -- have examined the case since the time of conviction and determined that the evidence did not support a finding of arson."
As if the Willingham execution anniversary weren't enough to remind voters Perry has shown a disregard for human life in presiding over a record number of executions as governor, an execution is scheduled Feb. 24 for Hank Skinner, who is believed by many to be innocent and whose efforts to obtain additional testing of DNA evidence has been staunchly opposed by the state.
Hank Skinner, scheduled for execution Feb. 24, has broad support for his claim of innocence.
The coalition is urging people across the state to call attention to Skinner's and Willingham's cases Tuesday by contacting legislators about the fallibility of the death penalty; writing to Gov. Perry and the ; writing to urge clemency for Skinner letters to the editors of local newspapers calling for an end to the death penalty, and posting comments in online forums in response to articles about Willingham and Skinner.
The need to call for a special day to publicize evidence of unfairness around the death penalty adds weight to the argument that the death penalty is an instrument not of justice but of politics.
Elizabeth Ann Stein produces EXECUTION WATCH on KPFT FM Houston 90.1, HD-2 and www.executionwatch.org. The program, hosted by Ray Hill, airs at 6 p.m. Central Time any day Texas executes someone. It is designed to counteract the virtual news blackout in the mainstream media when prisoners are executed. She has worked as a political reporter for United Press International, police reporter at a daily newspaper, and an editor for PC Week.