The State of Texas killed Cameron Todd Willingham for a crime he almost certainly didn’t commit. He was convicted of murder on the basis of junk-science expert testimony about the origins of the fire that killed his three infant daughters, plus the testimony of a jailhouse snitch about Willingham’s “confession.”
Too late to do Willingham any good, the Texas Legislature created a Forensic Science Commission with the power to investigate the competence (vel non) of the folks who offer forensic testimony. The Commission, in turn, had found an actual expert on arson, and this Friday that expert was going to deliver his verdict on the evidence against Willingham.
That might have been embarrassing for Gov. Rick Perry, who had refused to postpone Willingham’s execution despite the already-extant evidence of his innocence. Perry – in the midst of a primary fight with Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, and figuring, no doubt, that his current karmic burden had already earned him so many consecutive lifetimes as a castrated hamster with the shingles that he had nothing left to lose – found an elegantly Gordian solution to his problem: he just fired the Chairman of the commission and two other members, thus depriving the Commission of a quorum.* Perry, fighting hard for the “ignorant Yahoo” vote so crucial in Southern Republican primaries, had already denounced the “supposed experts” who insisted on keeping the actual, y’know, science in forensic science.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if Hutchison decided to make this an issue?
Update Ask, and ye shall receive: Hutchison goes there. Cautiously, yes, but she goes there. If someone lost a Texas Republican primary for allowing a wrongful execution, that would be revolution.
*Correction The Commission still has a quorum, but the new Chairman appointed by Perry quickly cancelled the hearing and won’t say whether it will ever be held.