Not only does it refuse to go away, but thenational controversy over Texas governor Rick Perry’s alleged mishandling of the clemency report and subsequent execution of Cameron Todd Willingham keeps growing.
While he may blame this all he wants to on liberal politics in an election year, it’s Perry’s own fault. Most recently, for example, heousted three of nine members of the state Forensic Science Commission(including its chairman) just two days before their long-awaited review of a new report on the arson investigation that led to Willingham’s conviction. Former chair Sam Bassett, replaced with a cherry-picked hardline conservative prosecutor, later told a reporter that he had heard
from Perry’s staffers that they were“concerned about the
investigations we were conducting.”
And now comes a major new challenge for Goodhair — he’s got a whole damnmajor newspaper suing his ass.
Before you read on, keep in mind an old saying that David Simon reminded us of over and over during the last season ofThe Wire: “Never piss off people who buy ink by the barrelful.”
— The Houston Chronicle and Hearst Newspapers LLC are suing Gov. Rick
Perry in an effort to force the release of a clemency report Perry
received before denying a stay of execution to Cameron Todd Willingham.
The report is a
summary and status of the case against Willingham that was given to
Perry at 11:30 a.m. on the day of Willingham’s 2004 execution in the
fire deaths of his three daughters. Anti-death penalty advocates say
modern fire forensics show the blaze cannot be proven as arson.
Perry’s office has
refused to release the report, claiming it is a privileged document.
The clemency document was used by Perry in the process of deciding
whether to give Willingham a 30-day stay of execution.
“When it comes to
human life, there is no place the governor should be more transparent
in his decision-making,” said Jonathan Donnellan, an attorney for
Hearst and the Chronicle.
“It should raise
eyebrows that the governor is seeking to shield communications with his
advisers as ‘legal advice,’ when the very idea of executive clemency
power is to make a policy decision after the legal process has run its
course,” Donnellan said.
contends that Chronicle reporter Lise Olsen on Aug. 31, 2009, requested
documents on the Willingham case from Perry’s office. With her
permission, the Governor’s Office redacted personal e-mail addresses
and then produced 883 pages of documents.
The lawsuit says
the governor’s attorneys never informed Olsen that they wanted to
withhold the clemency report. Nor did Perry’s lawyers tell Olsen the
document was not among those delivered to her.
responded to Olsen’s e-mail by saying the documents were similar to
reports the Texas attorney general previously had ruled could be held
from public view as privileged attorney product.
The governor has said the document contains nothing that is not in the public record, but he has refused to release it.
So, if everything in the clemency report is in the public record, and if everything done by the Governor’s Office was completely legal, why withhold the report from a newspaper?