Anyone but Rick – quashing a valuable hearing and dissing a cousin

Some questions will never be answered.

Did God really part the Red Sea? Who was Jack the Ripper? Was there a second shooter in Dallas? How is Rick Perry the longest serving Governor in Texas history?

Over morning coffee and the paper today I read two stories. First, how Perry replaced three members of the Texas Forensic Science Commission two days before a key hearing on its investigation into the possible execution of a wrongly convicted arsonist and a second relating a sad tale of a cousin of Rick’s who sheriff’s deputies shot and killed over the weekend in his backyard during an unexplained exchange of gunfire at his home.

Before getting to the first, let me share the Governor’s recollection of his 74 year old former social worker cousin who served on his 2006 re-election steering committee.  Though acknowledging the tragic nature of his cousin’s death, Perry stressed he hardly knew Larry Don Wheeler. “I’m not sure I would pick him out of a lineup,” the governor said of Wheeler, apparently a distant cousin on his grandmother’s side.

My family is far from reproach; we all have our issues. But for Perry to throw dirt on the dead reveals the genuine callowness of his character. Family is family and if Perry speaks this way of a tragically deceased cousin, no matter how distant, how do you think he speaks of fellow Texans to whom he has absolutely no relationship.

Now on to other matters of life and death, the State of Texas executed Cameron Todd Willingham in 2004 for the 1991 death by arson of his three children. Willingham always maintained his innocence in spite of a state fire marshal’s and  local fire investigator’s determination that he used a liquid accelerant to prevent anyone from rescuing the children.

Now enter the Texas Forensic Science Commission, created by the Texas Legislature in 2005 with a mission that includes:

Investigating, in a timely manner, any allegation

of professional negligence or misconduct that

would substantially affect the integrity of the

results of a forensic analysis conducted by an

accredited laboratory, facility or entity.

Looking into concerns that the forensic science behind the Willingham investigation lacked credibility, the Commission initiated a posthumous review of the scientific aspect of his case and retained the services of Baltimore-based arson expert Craig Beyler, who concluded the arson finding was scientifically unsupported and that the investigators at the scene had “poor understandings of fire science.” Two days before holding hearings on whether faulty investigative techniques in fact led to Willingham’s execution, Perry abruptly replaced the TFSC’s director and two other Commission members placing on indefinite hold consideration of the Willingham report.

True, the members’ terms expired September 1, 2009 but the dismissal came as a complete surprise to all involved. Plus, Perry could have simple renewed the terms as well. Instead, by appointing a new director and other members, who know nothing of the Willingham matter, the hearing has been postponed indefinitely.  

The TFSC’s findings will not bring Willingham back and whose even to say he was in fact innocent. It’s pretty clear, however, that Texas requires oversight of its forensic investigative units to help ensure against future wrongful convictions, particularly in capital cases.

Protecting the people of Texas, though, is the furthest thing from Perry’s mind. Whether it’s a distant cousin, improving a potentially flowed forensic system, education (Texas has the least number of people over 25 who hold a high school diploma and ranks 46th in SAT scores and 49th in teacher pay), or health insurance (dead last in the number of covered children but 1st in the number of teenage births), Perry remains consistently apathetic. His one concern remains continuing in the lifestyle to which he has grown accustomed.

Here’s hoping the people of the great State of Texas have grown weary of the standards set during Perry’s ten years as Governor.  


Perry and Larry Don Wheeler

Arson Investigation

Texas Forensic Science Commission

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