What He Said

Publius on Rick Perry's attempt to short-circuit an investigation of the Willingham case:

By now, you're probably familiar with the New Yorker article showing that Cameron Todd Willingham was almost certainly wrongly executed for arson and murder.   In 2005, after the execution, Texas established a commission to investigate forensic errors, and the commission started reviewing the Willingham case.  In the course of its review, the commission hired a nationally recognized fire expert who ultimately wrote a "scathing report" concluding that the arson investigation was a joke.  

The expert was originally set to testify about his report on Friday, October 2.  On Sept. 30, however, Perry suddenly replaced three members of the panel, including the chair, against their wishes.  The new chair promptly canceled the hearing.  More recently, Perry replaced a fourth member (he can only appoint four -- other state officials appoint the remaining five members).

What's amazing is not so much that Perry replaced the panel members, but that he felt secure enough to be so brazenly corrupt about it.  It's a sad reflection on the state of politics in Texas that a governor could commit such blatant whitewashing two days before the hearing. 

Of course, his motive is fairly clear.  Perry contributed to the execution of an innocent person.  And the formal recognition that Texas executed an innocent man would trigger a massive political earthquake -- one that would clarify to an inattentive public the utter barbarity and immorality of Texas's criminal justice system.

So yes, I can understand Perry's motives.  But it doesn't change the fact that he is acting in a profoundly immoral way. 

Yes, I'm opposed to the death penalty.  But even if you're not, you can't possibly think that it's okay to avoid investigating whether your state's forensic methods risk putting innocent people in jail, or sending them to their death.  No matter how strongly you favor the death penalty, I'm sure that you agree that its purpose is not to execute people; it's to execute justice.  A value which Rick Perry seems determined to butcher.

The expert was originally set to testify about his report on Friday, October 2.  On Sept. 30, however, Perry suddenly replaced three members of the panel, including the chair, against their wishes.  The new chair promptly canceled the hearing.  More recently, Perry replaced a fourth member (he can only appoint four -- other state officials appoint the remaining five members).

What's amazing is not so much that Perry replaced the panel members, but that he felt secure enough to be so brazenly corrupt about it.  It's a sad reflection on the state of politics in Texas that a governor could commit such blatant whitewashing two days before the hearing. 

Of course, his motive is fairly clear.  Perry contributed to the execution of an innocent person.  And the formal recognition that Texas executed an innocent man would trigger a massive political earthquake -- one that would clarify to an inattentive public the utter barbarity and immorality of Texas's criminal justice system.

So yes, I can understand Perry's motives.  But it doesn't change the fact that he is acting in a profoundly immoral way.

Yes, I'm opposed to the death penalty.  But even if you're not, you can't possibly think that it's okay to avoid investigating whether your state's forensic methods risk putting innocent people in jail, or sending them to their death.  No matter how strongly you favor the death penalty, I'm sure that you agree that its purpose is not to execute people; it's to execute justice.  A value which Rick Perry seems determined to butcher.

 

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Megan McArdle is a columnist at Bloomberg View and a former senior editor at The Atlantic. Her new book is The Up Side of Down.

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