By JIM VERTUNO
Associated Press Writer
AUSTIN (AP) — Gov. Rick Perry said Thursday that he defends his shakeup of a state arson board just days before it was to review a report that concluded a faulty investigation led to a man’s 2004 execution.
Perry called the move “pretty normal protocol” and said it is premature to declare the fatal fire Cameron Todd Willingham was convicted of setting as not being arson. Willingham’s three young daughters died in the 1991 blaze.
On Wednesday, Perry replaced the head of the Texas Forensic Science Commission and two of its eight other board members. The panel was scheduled to meet Friday to review a report on the arson findings that led to Willingham’s capital murder conviction and execution.
The panel’s new head, Williamson County District Attorney John Bradley, canceled Friday’s meeting. It hasn’t been rescheduled.
“What’s happening is we’re following pretty normal protocol,” Perry said at a news conference for his re-election campaign. “Those individuals’ terms were up so we’re replacing them. That’s not ... out of the ordinary.”
Perry, a Republican, has been governor since 2000 and is seeking a third full term in office.
Willingham, 36, was convicted of setting the fire that killed 2-year-old Amber and 1-year-old twins Karmon and Kameron on Dec. 23, 1991, in the family’s Corsicana home.
Willingham maintained his innocence, even from the death chamber. A state fire marshal, who also is now deceased, and a local fire investigator ruled it was arson. They testified that a liquid accelerant was ignited and the blaze was set to prevent anyone from rescuing the children. The investigator still stands by the findings.
The Forensic Science Commission hired Baltimore-based arson expert Craig Beyler to study the case. Beyler concluded the arson findings were scientifically unsupported and that investigators at the scene had “poor understandings of fire science.”
By JIM VERTUNO
- The Willingham Files
Science panel suggests review of arson convictions
A Texas commission no longer allowed to investigate a case where death penalty opponents say a man may have been executed based on a faulty arson investigation recommended Friday that all cases involving people locked up on arson convictions be reviewed.
Thompson honored for Willingham work
Lowell Thompson, Navarro County District Attorney, was honored by his peers at the Texas District and County Attorneys Association conference last week in Corpus Christi with the Lone Star Award for his work on the Willingham case.
- Willingham not on science panel agenda DALLAS (AP) — A state science panel looking into a possible wrongful conviction in a Texas death penalty case is meeting for the first time since Gov. Rick Perry removed several members, but the execution case is not on the agenda.
- (12-14-09) Tarrant County medical examiner appointed to forensic commission Gov. Rick Perry has appointed Tarrant County's medical examiner to the Texas Forensic Science Commission, a group shaken up this fall when Perry replaced several members.
(12-02-09) Jurors defend verdict that led to Texas execution
David Martin is sickened by the suggestion that Texas executed an innocent man when Cameron Todd Willingham was put to death for setting a fire that killed his three children.
- (11-10-09) Forensic panel chair offers plans The Texas Forensic Science Commission is not going to debate the death penalty or decide the guilt or innocence of individual cases, said John Bradley
- (11-08-09) GUEST COMMENTARY: A work in progress I am John Bradley, the elected District Attorney in Williamson County and the new presiding officer of the nine-member Texas Forensic Science Commission. I am writing to introduce myself, explain the purpose of the Commission and inform you about the work the Commission now faces.
- (10-27-09) Texas Forensic Science Commission questioned The City of Corsicana is questioning the Texas Forensic Science Commission’s ability to look at the case of Cameron Todd Willingham, since it happened 14 years before the commission was created.
- (10-26-09) Report: Willingham's former wife, 'He confessed' In a story on the Fort Worth Star-Telegram's online newspaper today, Stacey Kykendall, the former wife of executed Cameron Todd Willingham, says he confessed to her before his execution.
Death penalty opponents rally at Texas Capitol
AUSTIN, Texas (AP) - Death penalty opponents, convinced an innocent man was executed in 2004, staged a rally Saturday at the Texas Capitol to call for a moratorium on capital punishment and to highlight the controversial case of Cameron Todd Willingham.
- More The Willingham Files Headlines
- Science panel suggests review of arson convictions