Rick Perry Cover-Up: Either He Didn't Know, or Didn't Care

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The Houston Chronicle reported last Friday that Rick Perry's office is refusing to release notes relating to the last-minute request for a stay of Cameron Todd Willingham's execution. Lise Olsen reports:

Just 88 minutes before the February 2004 execution of Cameron Todd Willingham, Gov. Rick Perry's office received by fax a crucial arson expert's opinion that later ignited a political firestorm over whether Texas, on Perry's watch, used botched forensic evidence to send a man to his death. …

On Feb. 17, the day of the execution, Perry's office got the five-page faxed report at 4:52 p.m., according to documents the Houston Chronicle obtained in response to a public records request.

But it's unclear from the records whether he read it that day. Perry's office has declined to release any of his or his staff's comments or analysis of the reprieve request.

At the core, here is the issue: either Rick Perry didn't know, or didn't care, that the forensic evidence used to momentarily execute a man could be fatally flawed. Either way, he didn't care if–under his watch–the State of Texas put an innocent man to death. Let's examine either scenario in more depth.

  • Rick Perry Didn't Know: If he didn't read the report, he was derelict in his duty as governor. The Houston Chronicle article makes it clear that three days before the scheduled execution, Willingham's lawyer asked Perry for a delay, citing a new report questioning the validity of the evidence use to convict him. That report was received by the governor's office less than two hours before Willingham was scheduled to die. If he never read his report and his office didn't do its job, then this entire cover-up is aimed at keeping this latest failure a secret from the people of Texas.
  • Rick Perry Didn't Care: If he did read the report, if he did see that forensic experts found the evidence to be fatally flawed, he didn't care enough to hold off for further review. Perhaps, in Rick Perry's mind, the man had already been found guilty enough times that no new evidence could ever call such certainty into doubt. Perhaps this is more scary than Perry simply falling down on doing his job. After all, Perry can always just kill someone later if they're really guilty. But he can't undo it if it turns out they're not guilty.

Whether or not individuals support the death penalty, we can all agree that the State of Texas should not be in the business of putting innocent individuals to death for crimes they did not commit. In this instance, should Willingham be exonerated, he was executed for a crime no one committed–an accidental arson that had no perpetrator, only victims. Thanks to Rick Perry, though, the State of Texas may now be guilty of the most heinous of crimes.

For more on this, make sure to read community member Scott Cobb's excellent diary, Is Rick Perry Hiding Smoking Gun Information in Todd Willingham Cover-Up? Scott has been a tireless anti-death penalty activist and we're lucky to have his expertise here on BOR.

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About Author

Katherine Haenschen

Katherine Haenschen is a PhD candidate at the University of Texas, where she studies political participation on digital media. She has previously managed successful candidate, issue, voter registration, and GOTV campaigns in Austin. In addition to serving as the president of Austin Young Democrats, she is also UCONN's #1 fan in Texas.

3 Comments

  1. Folks are missing the bigger picture here.
    The dust up over this man's execution seems to be lacking a full reporting of the facts.  In 2004 the Atty. General's Office, the Texas Appeals Court, the US 5th Circuit Court of Appeals and the US Supreme Court all had the same information the Governor's office had;  And all of them turned down the new report.  They all let the court ordered sentence move forward.   Hard to see how all this gets laid at the feet of the Governor and not all of those bodies.   More facts are better then half truths any day.

  2. Kay Bailey Hutchison Campaign calls it a “cover up”
    “Only Rick Perry would arrogantly warn about the dangers of 'unchecked government' as he and his aides force University Regents to resign, pressure appointees and try to cover-up a critical investigation. From University Regents to the Texas Forensic Science Commission, it's clear that the only checks and balances that Rick Perry cares about are those of his campaign re-election fund,” said Joe Pounder, Hutchison Deputy Communications Director.

  3. How can Perry do this with a straight face

    The shake up of the commission, appointing cronies and putting pressure on the way the investigation was going.

    Nothing like good ole boy politics.

    In 2002, a federal district court of appeals denied Willingham's writ without even a hearing. In 2003 the supreme court declined to hear the case. His last chance or what the supreme court calls are “fail safe” in our criminal justicve system was to appeal to Perry. We all know the outcome.

    The problem for Perry is that this is not an anti death penalty argument. There is no doubt it will be for some. The bigger picture is his handling of the execution before and after. I support the death penalty. I no longer support Perry.

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