Welcome to Texas: The Death Penalty State

Cross-posted at HuffPo.

You know those billboards you see on the side of freeways advertising new subdivisions built in rural areas outside of town? "If you lived here, you'd be home by now."

Someone needs to throw up a similar one next to the "Welcome to Texas" signs you hit when coming in on I-10.

"If you'd done what our Governor has done, you'd be executed by now."

As the case against Cameron Todd Willingham, executed in 2004, sinks like a rock, the truth has started to float to the top and the rats are streaming out from all sides, led by none other than Texas Governor Rick Perry. Perry has reason to be running - his office denied clemency to Willingham just before he was executed, despite the fact that new information was submitted from arson experts stating that "no evidence of arson" was found (see Dare Devils: Governor Rick Perry and the Texas Death Panel).

This is the same Rick Perry - as a native Texan who voted for the Democrat in that election, I feel honor-bound to remind you - who won with only 39% of the vote in 2006. Even Texans know that at best this makes him unpopular. It also means that our Governor, his hair a-glaze, has his work cut out for him in his re-election race.

So it should come as no surprise that Perry is now pawing the ground like a cat in a litter box, covering his tracks. Inconveniently for him, the stink remains. As the state's Forensic Science Commission, which was set up to investigate the Willingham case, was preparing a report on the validity of the arson investigation, Governor Perry decided to replace three of the nine members appointed to the commission. The chairman of the commission was replaced with Williamson County District Attorney John Bradley, who the Dallas Morning News calls "one of the most conservative, hard-line prosecutors in Texas." The timing, according to the Dallas Morning News, disturbed the former chairman, Austin lawyer Sam Bassett. "In my view, we should not fail to investigate important forensic issues in cases simply because there might be political ramifications," Bassett said.

But political ramifications, particularly to a professional politician who's been called everything from a "cyborg" to "Tricky Ricky," are exactly what keeps our Texas Governor up at night, not the death of innocent people, under-funded public schools, teen pregnancy rates or children without health insurance.

For the rest of us, Willingham's final words are a chilling reminder echoing in the news around the world this week nearly six years after his execution: "I am an innocent man convicted of a crime I did not commit. I have been persecuted for twelve years for something I did not do."

But, ultimately, Governor Perry's statement regarding his not-so-covered cover up says it better than anything I could ever write. In one moment at a press conference this week, he took all that was taken from Cameron Todd Willingham - a breath of life, a beat in his heart, an air of innocence - and said, straight faced, that his decision to replace the board members was, simply, "Business as usual."

Welcome to Texas.

Take action: If you would like to sign a petition to Governor Rick Perry and the State of Texas to acknowledge that the fire in the Cameron Todd Willingham case was not arson, therefore no crime was committed, please click here. As of this posting, there were 1,967 signatures.


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