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dating to the 1800s couldn’t get utility services, says Rhonda Tiffin, director of the county planning commission. In La Presa colonia, near Laredo, some families who bought homes connected to the grid had their electricity disconnected because the “right” to power attached to the homeowner, not the propAfter failed attempts in previous legislative sessions, Tiffin and other colonia advocates finally managed to overcome the Legislature’s hard-line policy on colonias. The legislation, Senate Bill 2253 by Sen. Judith Zaffirini, a Laredo Democrat, took effect on June 1. “We asked for this change in law, but oh my God, we’re inundated by people,” says Tiffin. “It’s phenomenal” In Webb County, Tiffin estimates that six or seven previously ineligible colonias can now get water, sewer service and electricity. Tiffin previously had to reject half of all applications for services. Now the approval rate has reached 90 percent, she says. So far, 5o homes have received approval for services from the Webb County Commissioners Court, with more to follow. “I think this makes believers out of the people [in colonias] and those working to change the Third World conditions out there says Israel Reyna, branch director of the Laredo office of Texas RioGrande Legal Aid. “I think the entire nation benefits from raising the standard of living in the colonias. It is a great leap forward!’ Forrest Wilder Burning Question DID TEXAS EXECUTE AN INNOCENT MAN? Since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976, no state or governmental body has admitted to executing an innocent person. That doesn’t mean it hasn’t happened, just that no state has ‘fessed up to it. Now Texas could be moving closer to becoming the first state to admit executing an innocent man. Cameron Todd Willingham was executed in February 2004, convicted of intentionally starting the 1991 house fire that killed his three children. Arson experts who examined the case say Willingham was convicted with flawed forensic evidence. It appears that Willingham was almost assuredly innocent, as he claimed all along. The Texas Forensic Science Commission, charged with investigating claims of botched forensics, has been looking into the case. The agency hired Craig Beyler, a nationally known arson expert. In late August, Beyler completed his report on the case and, like other experts, concluded that the fire at Willingham’s house was likely accidental. Beyler writes that the state fire marshal who investigated the blaze had a “limited understanding” of fire science, according to the Chicago Tribune, which first reported Beyler’s conclusion. The marshal’s findings in the case “are nothing more than a collection of personal beliefs that have nothing to do with science-based fire investigation,” Beyler writes. The science of detecting arson has undergone a revolution the past 15 years. Recent experiments have shown that accidental fires can cause many indicators that investigators once thought meant a fire was started intentionally. These outdated “old wives’ tales,” experts say, convicted Willingham. More than Boo people are serving arson sentences in Texas prisons. The Observer has been investigating some of these older cases and found inmates who were likely wrongly convicted. \(See “Burn Patterns:’ April 3, 2009, and “Victim of Sam Bassett, an Austin defense attorney who chairs the Forensic Science Commission, says commissioners will examine Beyler’s report, then solicit input from the state Fire Marshal’s Office and prosecutors. The commission will issue its final report on the case early next year. Bassett says the report will be comprehensive but will strictly address whether proper forensic procedures were followed in the Willingham case. “We’re not a commission to make declarations of whether someone was innocent or guilty,” he says. “We won’t be making an innocence determination:’ Because it’s an arson case, if the commission concludes the fire was accidental, then by definition no crime was committed. It would also mean Texas killed an innocent man. Dave Mann YOU DON’T SAY: “This was simply an excuse to bring about what they wanted all the time: socialized medicine…. One of these days you and I are going to spend our sunset years telling our children and our children’s children what it was once like in America when men were free.” Ronald Reagan, speaking in 1961 against Medicare. SEPTEMBER 4, 2009 TEXASOBSERVER.ORG 7