Remember that move by Texas governor Rick Perry to not to reappoint the chair of a panel looking into a flawed arson investigation that may have led to the execution of an innocent man? Well it’s looking dodgier than ever.
Last week, Perry announced he would not reappoint Chair Sam Bassett and two other members of the Texas Forensic Science Commission, which is looking into the probe that led to the execution of Cameron Willingham — despite strong evidence that he may have been innocent. The panel members terms had expired.
Perry himself, as governor, had signed off on the 2004 execution, leading critics to charge that the decision on Bassett — who had appeared to push for an aggressive inquiry into missteps in the original probe — was an attempt by the governor to short-circuit an effort that could have been politically damaging as he faces a tough re-election campaign.
Now, the Star-Telegram of Forth Worth reports that just weeks before Perry opted not to re-appoint Bassett, the chair of the Texas Criminal Defense Lawyers Association, which recommends nominees to the panel, had written to Perry to urge him to reappoint Bassett, whose tenure was expiring.
Wrote Stanley Schneider to Perry in a September 4th letter:
In our opinion, he has done an excellent job and there is a great deal of unfinished business that should not be interrupted,” Stanley G. Schneider, president of the association, The association “believes that he will bring continuity and unique experience to the Commission which will aid the Commission in its important work.
Schneider continued, referring to Bassett:
He has never missed a meeting,” said the association president. “Under his leadership, the Commission has developed a reporting system and a website for the filing of complaints by members of the criminal defense bar, laboratory personnel and the public.
In addition, two other commission members — Alan Levy and Sarah Kerrigan — also wrote to Perry with the same message Schneider had sent: keep Bassett on the commission. Levy told the paper he wrote the letter “because continuity was important in the commission’s business because of this particular case.” Kerrigan’s letter made a similar case, arguing that reappointing Bassett “will ensure a measure of stability to the Commission during a time of great scrutiny.”
Bassett told the Star-Telegram that a third member, Aliece Watts, had written to Perry on Bassett’s behalf as well. Levy and Watts, whose terms had also expired, were ultimately not re-appointed along with Bassett.
A spokeswoman for Perry told the paper that because the commissioners’ terms had expired, the decision to replace them was “a routine part of the appointments process.”
The dismissals of Bassett and the others came just days before the panel was to hear testimony from Craig Beyler, a nationally known arson expert who argued in a report that methods used in the investigation could not support the finding of arson. The new chair appointed by Perry to replace Bassett, conservative prosecutor John Bradley, called off Beyler’s testimony, saying he and other new panel members needed more time to get up to speed on the case. Bradley has not said whether Beyler’s appearance will be rescheduled.
None of Schneider, Levy, Watts, and Kerrigan immediately responded to requests from TPMmuckraker for comment.