Politics – Hey, Texas. Clean Up Your Judicial System!

“An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth/and anyway I told the truth/and I’m not afraid to die.”
— Nick Cave, The Mercy Seat

Anybody who knows me knows that I am no fan of Texas as a political entity. I like individual Texans well enough; my grandpa’s from Texas and he’s the nicest Southern gentleman you’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting. And, some bad experiences in Dallas aside (long story), Texas as a state is OK. The yahoos you know from annoying songs are actually pretty rare, although they’re out there.

But politically speaking, it…is…nuts. This is a state where a man can walk off his property with a shotgun, blow away two unarmed men breaking into a garage he doesn’t own, and nobody sees anything wrong with that. This is a state where clergy can get concealed-carry permits, which to me raises the question of what the hell a priest needs with a Glock in the first place. And, of course, it’s a state that has an unseemly hardon for the death penalty. And this isn’t even getting into Texas’ corrupt judicial system, which is a goddamn disaster area by any conceivable yardstick, and probably the biggest source of shame in our nation.

I’m against the death penalty for fairly simple reasons: it doesn’t work as a deterrent (criminals never think they’ll get caught, let alone punished), it costs more, and the risks of killing an innocent man are just too great. Innocent men have, I guarantee you, died at the hand of the state, we just haven’t been able to prove it. Just look up the Innocence Project, which cleared thirteen men on death row in one state, based on DNA evidence. What does that tell you about the death penalty?

And now, we’ve got Cameron Todd Willingham. There is, at this point, a lot of doubt as to whether Willingham committed the crime. From what I’ve read, to be blunt I think it’s extremely unlikely he killed his daughters and that Willingham got railroaded. Either way, there’s more than enough here for the “shadow of a doubt” that’s the most important aspect of our legal system. And that’s a perception Governor Rick Perry has only encouraged by desperately trying to cover his own ass.

Take a quick read of this:

Some salient points:

— A welcome point of transparency is that the governor’s review of the evidence surrounding executions is made available to the public. Even Dubya, not exactly noted for his love of FOIA or disclosure, did this as a matter of course. Suddenly, Perry’s trying to reverse this policy, especially as regards a five-page memo faxed to him detailing very serious questions as to the accuracy and scientific validity of the conclusions made by the arson investigators.

— A similar case, that of Ernest Willis, came to the same conclusions as in the Willingham case. Willis was freed. Nor was he the first to be freed by one Dr. Gerald Hurst, who penned the Willingham memo.

— Perry has been revealed to have tried to influence a committee investigating the validity of the forensics in the Willingham case. And when that didn’t work, he fired three members of the committee and appointed some new ones.

— The first action of the new head of the committee? Cancelling the public hearing over the Willingham case.

Yeah, it’s not hard to do this math. I’ll bet anything what happened is that Perry’s office didn’t even bother looking at the fax, and they’re terrified of both the short-term political ramifications and the long-term implications for Texas’ justice system, which probably has a lot of friends of Rick Perry in it, considering the way Texas politics works.

And they should be. Sure, it’s bad enough for Perry that he probably, through negligence, killed an innocent man, although, to be blunt, I’m not sure how much that will truly cost him. No, I think Perry’s more concerned with the long-term ramifications of what will happen if it’s proven that a state that uses the death penalty has killed an innocent man.

That would turn a lot of tides. One of the main arguments for the death penalty is that the system is strong and well-designed enough that innocent men never slip through. Anybody with any understanding of bureaucratic systems knows what a crock of shit that is, but it’s a dearly held illusion. Strip that away and you pave the way for a flat-out ban of the death penalty.

But equally important would be that the revelation of one innocent man killed, just one, would trigger an auditing of the books. And here, folks, is where it really has the potential to get messy.

Perry’s presided over more than 200 executions. Harris County, where Houston is located, sends more people to die than a good chunk of the states. There is no state that kills more prisoners than Texas.

So what happens if somebody who isn’t a good ole boy gets a crack at the books, gets to review all the decisions, gets to find out what was considered and what wasn’t?

Why, I’m guessing that a whole lot of judges and one governor would end up out of office, or quite possibly fitted for an orange jumpsuit. And the more Perry delays and obsfucates, the more I’m absolutely certain that’s the case.

Note to Rick Perry, if he’s reading: if what you’re making it look like is true is, in fact, the truth, then you’ve killed an innocent man, and nothing on God’s green earth is going to change that. You can lie, you can change committee members, you can cancel public hearings, but the truth of the matter is: Cameron Todd Willingham is dead, unjustly. And it is, and will always be, your fault.


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One Response to “Politics – Hey, Texas. Clean Up Your Judicial System!”

  1. Scott Cobb Says:

    Shout this name from the rooftops, Todd Willingham. He was innocent and Texas killed him. U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, in 2006, wrote that, in the modern judicial system there has not been “a single case–not one–in which it is clear that a person was executed for a crime he did not commit. If such an event had occurred in recent years, we would not have to hunt for it; the innocent’s name would be shouted from the rooftops.” Take part in our “Shout it from the Rooftops” campaign.

    Sign the petition to Governor Rick Perry and the State of Texas to acknowledge that the fire in the Cameron Todd Willingham case was not arson, therefore no crime was committed and on February 17, 2004, Texas executed an innocent man.

    Join the Facebook group Todd Willingham – Innocent and Executed: Shout it from the Rooftops.

    Call Governor Rick Perry and leave him a message at (512) 463-1782.

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