Will Perry Be Asked About Willingham Tonight?

Dave Mann

Tonight’s second GOP gubernatorial debate in Dallas would seem the perfect opportunity to ask Gov. Rick Perry about the case of Cameron Todd Willingham.

(Obligatory background parenthetical: Willingham, a likely innocent man, was executed in 2004. Read about the case here.)

The Willingham controversy has been nonexistent in the governor’s race so far. It’s clear the Kay Bailey Hutchison campaign decided long ago that the Willingham issue wasn’t a winning one for them with GOP primary voters. And they won’t get an argument from me on that one. But that doesn’t mean the media should be avoiding this subject.

The timing couldn’t be better because the Forensic Science Commission is meeting today in Harlingen. It’s the first meeting since Perry replaced the commission’s leadership last fall and forestalled the investigation into the Willingham case. Of course, Willingham isn’t on the agenda.

Grits has an interesting post about today’s meeting.

Meanwhile, here are two ideas for questions I would ask Perry tonight:

1. Gov. Perry, today the Forensic Science Commission met for the first time since you replaced its chairman and two other members. Your critics contend you made these changes to halt the commission’s investigation into the case of Cameron Todd Willingham, whose execution you oversaw in 2004 and whom some forensic experts contend may have been innocent. Did you replace these commissioners to halt the Willingham investigation?

2. Gov. Perry, in 2004, an hour and a half before the execution of Cameron Todd Willingham, your office received a report from a forensics expert that called into question much of the evidence in the case. You allowed the execution to go forward. Since then, eight more of the nation’s top forensic experts have concluded that much of the evidence against Wilingham was flawed. Did you personally read the report delivered to your office before Willingham’s execution? And, in retrospect, should you have delayed Willingham’s execution to further review doubts about the evidence?

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Dave Mann is a former editor of the Observer.

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