By MICHAEL GRACZYK
Associated Press Writer
HOUSTON — Gov. Rick Perry has further shaken up a state panel that was set to review a report concluding that a faulty arson investigation led to a Texas inmate's execution, naming a criminal defense attorney on Friday to fill a board vacancy and replacing one medical examiner with another.
Lawyer Lance Evans of Fort Worth succeeds Samuel Bassett, who was told last week he wouldn't be reappointed to the Texas Forensic Science Commission.
Evans is state membership chair of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, criminal law section co-chair of the Tarrant County Bar Association and a past board member of the Texas Criminal Defense Lawyers Association.
Perry's office also announced Friday that Randall Frost of Boerne, the chief medical examiner for Bexar County, was replacing Sridhar Natarajan, a medical examiner from Lubbock.
The two new members' terms run until Sept. 1, 2011.
The commission, which oversees the professional conduct of forensic laboratories and facilities, was to consider last week the arson findings that led to the 2004 execution of Cameron Todd Willingham. He was condemned for setting a fire that killed his three small children in 1991.
Perry last week ousted Bassett and two other board members, including the chairman. He named as new chairman Williamson County District Attorney John Bradley, who canceled the scheduled meeting. It hasn't been rescheduled.
Perry, a Republican who has been governor since 2000 and is seeking a third full four-year term, has defended the board changes as routine.
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.
He maintained his innocence, even from the death chamber. A state fire marshal, who is now deceased, and a local fire investigator ruled it was arson, that a liquid accelerant was ignited and the blaze was set to prevent anyone from rescuing the children. The investigator stands by the findings.
The Forensic Science Commission hired Baltimore-based arson expert Craig Beyler to study the case after critics of capital punishment raised questions about the case. Beyler concluded that the arson findings were scientifically unsupported and that investigators at the scene had "poor understandings of fire science."
Beyler's report has bolstered arguments from advocacy groups that Willingham was innocent and wrongly executed.
The state commission doesn't have the power to rule on Willingham's guilt or innocence, but was expected to release a report next year on the validity of the arson investigation.
Perry has said it was better to appoint new members before they started work on the report.
Click here to Soundoff on this story.
By MICHAEL GRACZYK
- 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