The Executioner

by digby

I have written quite a bit about the Cameron Todd Willingham horror, mostly because the idea of executing an innocent man is so horrifying. I'm hardcore anti-death penalty in any case, but this one is particularly awful because there's a ton of evidence that the state knew he was innocent and executed him anyway. It's an even darker level of moral depravity than most. And it's entirely possible that the buck stops with a man who could be the next president of the United States.

This article by Jason Linkins at the Huffington Post examines the death penalty in presidential politics, including the ugly examples of Bill Clinton and George W. Bush's ostentatious embrace of the practice. But Rick Perry is in a class by himself. He didn't just sign off on the execution of an innocent man. He actively worked to cover up the fact that Willingham was innocent and refused to acknowledge that the science that was used to convict him was in any way tainted, despite the mountains of evidence that it was.

Cameron Todd Willingham was convicted in August 1992 for the murder of his three young children in a fire that was deemed an arson by investigators. While on death row, a frantic effort to prove his innocence resulted in a full report which questioned the scientific legitimacy of the evidence used to convict Willingham. That report made its way to Gov. Perry's office ahead of the zero hour, but it was all for nought -- no stay of execution was granted in order to consider the new findings.

Willingham was executed by lethal injection on Feb. 17, 2004. Yet the efforts to exonerate Willingham only intensified, and in 2005, the Texas Forensic Science Commission decided to re-examine the case. The commission hired a nationally known fire scientist, Craig Beyler, to evaluate the evidence, and in his report, he came down on the same side as the scientists who had evaluated the case prior to Willingham's execution: there was no credible scientific basis for the conclusion that arson had been committed.

Beyler was eventually scheduled to testify before the commission on Oct. 2, 2009. Two days before Beyler's appearance, however, Rick Perry put a stop to it.

Two years later, we're wondering if anyone wants to ask the presidential aspirant why.

I'm sure it will come up from time to time. But Perry will say the man was a monster and nobody will have the nerve to truly get into the weeds with him. Death penalty cases make everyone uncomfortable and most reporters will want to move on to easier topics.

Read the whole article if you have time this week-end. It lays out all the evidence and includes lengthy discussions of the New Yorker article that alerted most of us to the case, the Frontline program about it and the critically acclaimed documentary Incendiary as well as a lengthy list of newspaper articles.

Read it first and then watch this Youtube. You will be looking at the face of a sociopath. A sociopath who could quite easily become the GOP nominee for president. (A sociopath whose followers have been quoted saying "it takes balls to execute an innocent man..."

Perry, by the way, has personally signed off on 254 executions.