Corsicana Daily Sun, Corsicana, Texas

The Willingham Files

October 7, 2009

(10-07-09) Science commissioners urged Perry to keep chairman

AUSTIN (AP) — Some members of a forensics commission investigating whether Texas executed an innocent man wrote to Gov. Rick Perry urging him not to replace the panel’s chairman — advice the governor overruled.

Gov. Rick Perry acted against the advice of a forensics commission investigating whether Texas executed an innocent man when he replaced the panel’s chairman, according to commissioners who wrote to his office.

In his shake-up of the Texas Forensic Science Commission last week, Perry removed commission chairman and Austin defense attorney Sam Bassett and replaced him with prosecutor John Bradley, a conservative ally of the governor. Bradley’s first act was to cancel a scheduled review of a report critical of an arson finding that led to the execution of Cameron Todd Willingham for the 1991 deaths of his three daughters.

The moves came over the objections of at least two commissioners who wrote letters to Perry praising Bassett’s leadership. The Texas Criminal Defense Lawyers Association, which gets to recommend to Perry one person for one of the nine slots on the commission, also pushed Bassett as its top choice.

The Austin American-Statesman reported that commission member Sarah Kerrigan praised Bassett’s “dedicated leadership” in a letter to Perry.

“I recommend his reappointment under the strongest possible terms,” she wrote.

Alan Levy, a panel member who was replaced along with Bassett, also urged Perry to retain Bassett.

“Sam is not an ideologue. He’s a straightforward guy, a straight shooter,” said Levy, a prosecutor in the Tarrant County District Attorney’s office, in an interview with The Associated Press. “He didn’t let any political agendas get in the way.”

Perry and his representatives have declined to say why the governor replaced several members of the panel. He has characterized his decision as “business as usual,” pointing out that the commissioners’ terms had expired.

But critics said Perry is trying to bury a report that bolsters arguments that Texas executed an innocent man.

“There are a number of things taken into consideration when selecting appointees to fill a position, including letters from concerned stakeholders,” Perry spokeswoman Katherine Cesinger told the newspaper.


Information from: Austin American-Statesman:

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The Willingham Files
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