Monday, August 29, 2011


"The Houston Chronicle has a lawsuit pending regarding Perry's decision on a clemency request in 2004 by Cameron Todd Willingham, whose capital murder conviction stirred debate over the science of arson investigations. Perry refused the newspaper's request to release his staff's analysis or comments about Willingham's request for clemency, which raised new evidence. Willingham was executed Feb. 17, 2004.

Previous Texas governors released their reviews of execution cases. Perry's office has maintained that any documents showing his views or staff discussion are not public record. He has presided over more than 200 executions as governor."



BACKGROUND: (Wikipedia); Cameron Todd Willingham (January 9, 1968 – February 17, 2004), born in Carter County, Oklahoma, was sentenced to death by the state of Texas for murdering his three daughters—two year old Amber Louise Kuykendall, and one year old twins Karmon Diane Willingham and Kameron Marie Willingham— by setting his house on fire. The fire occurred on December 23, 1991 in Corsicana, Texas. Lighter fluid was kept on the front porch of Willingham’s house as evidenced by a melted container found there. Some of this fluid may have entered the front doorway of the house carried along by fire hose water. It was alleged this fluid was deliberately poured to start the fire and that Willingham chose this entrance way so as to impede rescue attempts. The prosecution also used other arson theories that have since been brought into question. In addition to the arson evidence, a jailhouse informant claimed Willingham confessed that he set the fire to hide his wife's physical abuse of the girls, although the girls showed no other injuries besides those caused by the fire. Neighbors also testified that Willingham did not try hard enough to save his children. They allege he "crouched down" in his front yard and watched the house burn for a period of time without attempting to enter the home or go to neighbors for help or request they call firefighters. He claimed that he tried to go back into the house but it was "too hot". As firefighters arrived, however, he rushed towards the garage and pushed his car away from the burning building, requesting firefighters do the same rather than put out the fire. After the fire, Willingham showed no emotion at the death of his children and spent the next day sorting through the debris, laughing and playing music. He expressed anger after finding his dartboard burned in the fire. Firefighters and other witnesses were suspicious of how he reacted during and after the fire. Willingham was charged with murder on January 8, 1992. During his trial in August 1992, he was offered a life term in exchange for a guilty plea, which he turned down insisting he was innocent. After his conviction, he and his wife divorced. She later stated that she believed that Willingham was guilty. Prosecutors alleged this was part of a pattern of behavior intended to rid himself of his children. Willingham had a history of committing crimes, including burglary, grand larceny and car theft. There was also an incident when he beat his pregnant wife over the stomach with a telephone to induce a miscarriage. When asked if he had a final statement, Willingham said: "Yeah. The only statement I want to make is that I am an innocent man - convicted of a crime I did not commit. I have been persecuted for 12 years for something I did not do. From God's dust I came and to dust I will return - so the earth shall become my throne. I gotta go, road dog. I love you Gabby." However, his final words were directed at his ex-wife, Stacy Willingham. He turned to her and said "I hope you rot in hell, bitch" several times while attempting to extend his middle finger in an obscene gesture. His ex-wife did not show any reaction to this. He was executed by lethal injection on February 17, 2004. Subsequent to that date, persistent questions have been raised as to the accuracy of the forensic evidence used in the conviction, specifically, whether it can be proven that an accelerant (such as the lighter fluid mentioned above) was used to start the fatal fire. Fire investigator Gerald L. Hurst reviewed the case documents including the trial transcriptions and an hour-long videotape of the aftermath of the fire scene. Hurst said, "There's nothing to suggest to any reasonable arson investigator that this was an arson fire. It was just a fire. Legendary "Innocence" lawyer Barry Scheck asked participants at a conference of the National Association of Criminal Defence Lawyers held in Toronto in August, 2010, how Willingham, who had lost his family to the fire, must have felt to hear the horrific allegations made against him on the basis of the bogus evidence, "and nobody pays any attention to it as he gets executed." "It's the Dreyfus Affair, and you all know what that is," Scheck continued. "It's the Dreyfus AffaIr of the United States. Luke Power's music video "Texas Death Row Blues," can be found at:

For an important critique of the devastating state of arson investigation in America with particular reference to the Willingham and Willis cases, go to:


"When then-Gov. George W. Bush ran for president in 2000, his office released a treasure trove of information relating to his years as Texas' chief executive," the Houston Chronicle story by reporter Patricia Kilday Hart published earlier today under the heading, "Perry's long tenure is short on particulars: Most business in the governor’s office is withheld from public view," begins.

"Some 3,125 pages detailing Bush's appointments during 1995-1998 allowed news organizations to remark on the exact number of lobbyists and campaign donors with whom he met. The records showed which state lawmakers Bush conferred with - and on what subject - and detailed how much time he spent reviewing capital punishment cases prior to executions," the story continues.

"The records showed when he arrived at the office, when he took time off for the gym and when he went home.

In short, the documents provided a portrait of the leadership style of a candidate for president of the United States.

Now, as Gov. Rick Perry embarks on a presidential campaign, it is unlikely the public will access records that provide many revealing details about his decade-long tenure as governor. While Perry extols open government - most recently challenging Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke to "open the books" of the nation's central bank - he has adopted policies that shroud his own office in a purposeful opaqueness that confounds prying reporters - or any member of the public questioning his policies.

He has been governor longer than anyone in Texas history, but there is a lot the public does not know about Rick Perry. Where does he go each day, and with whom does he talk? What is discussed when he meets with top state agency executives? How does he evaluate a clemency request from a death row inmate? Or an application for a grant from his Emerging Technology Fund? What opinions are expressed to him through email and how does he respond?

Missed legal deadlines

Those are just some of the questions left largely unanswered by Perry's decisions to bar the public from viewing details of his travel, his daily schedule and most of his emails.

Over the past decade, the Perry administration has withheld information in response to some 100 open-records requests, instead seeking review by the Texas Attorney General's Office. In two cases in the past year, Perry's office acknowledged it failed to meet legal deadlines for responding to the requests, or otherwise delayed in violation of well-established procedures outlined in the Texas Public Information Act.

Most of the withheld documents involved contracts, bidding and oversight of programs in which state money flows to entrepreneurs, privately held companies and universities from Perry's two economic development funds, the Emerging Technology Fund and the Texas Enterprise Fund. In some cases, the requests involve entities headed by Perry campaign donors and political appointees. Perry also chose to withhold information when third parties complained they would release proprietary information or violate trade secrets.

Among the information withheld from public view were communications between Amazon and the governor and his staff concerning the company's recent dispute with the state of Texas over a $269 million sales tax bill.

He has declined to release staff notes and emails relating to the Emerging Technology Fund and records relating to appointments to the advisory committee that oversees its grant applications. He also withheld emails and telephone logs relating to a $4.5 million Emerging Technology Fund grant awarded to Convergen Life Sciences, a company owned by campaign contributor David G. Nance.

The Houston Chronicle has a lawsuit pending regarding Perry's decision on a clemency request in 2004 by Cameron Todd Willingham, whose capital murder conviction stirred debate over the science of arson investigations. Perry refused the newspaper's request to release his staff's analysis or comments about Willingham's request for clemency, which raised new evidence. Willingham was executed Feb. 17, 2004.

Previous Texas governors released their reviews of execution cases. Perry's office has maintained that any documents showing his views or staff discussion are not public record. He has presided over more than 200 executions as governor.

"The governor follows all disclosure requirements as required by the state and has led the charge to increasing transparency in state government," said spokeswoman Catherine Frazier. "He has led by example, putting the check register for the governor's office online so that citizens can clearly and easily see how their tax dollars are being spent. State agencies, at the governor's request have followed suit."

Some of his decisions in favor of secrecy, however, have generated considerable controversy over the years.

Houston attorney Joe Larsen, who represents the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas, said he believes Perry's office is violating state law by automatically purging all staff members' computers of emails older than seven days. Perry's office has said it prints and saves documents subject to open-records laws and government document retention schedules. Larsen said he believes vital records are lost by the automatic purge policy and notes that state law requires records be saved in an electronic, searchable form.

"There is a huge cache of information regarding Perry's time as governor of Texas that is gone or virtually inaccessible - information in which the citizens of the entire country now have vital interest given his candidacy for president," Larsen said. "For those who believe limited government is a basic conservative value, this pattern of shielding his office from public scrutiny should give pause."

In May, 2008, Larsen filed a complaint with the Texas Attorney General's Office on behalf of a Wisconsin blogger and open government advocate seeking Perry emails. The AG declined to intervene on the grounds that the governor's office said it followed the state's document retention schedule by printing and filing protected emails.

Larsen finds that implausible.

"It is unlikely, logistically almost impossible, that Perry's office actually kept a hard copy of all emails that would have fallen within the records retention schedule," he said. "It's just not going to happen in a busy office."

During last year's gubernatorial campaign, Democratic challenger Bill White accused Perry of hardly working, noting that his official schedule for one six-month period provided evidence he worked an average of seven hours a week, and included 38 weekdays with "no state scheduled events." Perry responded, "Just because it is written down doesn't mean I'm not out there working for the people of Texas."

In contrast to Bush's extensive appointments records, Perry has left the country without it being reflected on his public schedule. Reporters learned that he took a 2004 trip to the Bahamas with San Antonio businessman James Leininger, a Perry campaign donor, and anti-tax advocate Grover Norquist after being spotted scuba-diving by a tourist. The trip did not appear on his schedule released under the state Public Information Act. At the time, press secretary Kathy Walt acknowledged that Perry had begun releasing a far less complete report of his time after hiring a new scheduler. She also noted that "the Open Meetings Act and the Public Information Act have certain exemptions."

Public access blocked

Most of Perry's travel is paid by campaign funds and detailed reports are not required to be disclosed. After the Bahamas trip, newspapers requested and got copies of the expenses paid for Perry's Department of Public Safety security detail - and noted that the state picked up the tab for scuba equipment to accompany the governor. Since then, Perry has blocked public viewing of his security detail's travel expense reports.

The Chronicle and the San Antonio Express-News have sued for the records. Two lower court rulings favored the newspapers, but the Texas Supreme Court in June agreed with Perry that his personal safety concerns were grounds for withholding the information.

Before that ruling was announced, proposed legislation keeping the governor's travel security expenses private drew controversy in the Texas Legislature. The bill died in a Senate committee after lawmakers objected that the public should know if a state official misused a travel security detail.

Perry leaned on lawmakers to include language in a school finance bill passed in the Legislature's special session that would keep secret for 18 months the travel vouchers of his security team. Until then, the public would be able to view only summary reports that disclose a trip's destination, but not specific businesses visited or the names of family members accompanying the governor."


The story can be found at:


PUBLISHER'S NOTE: The Toronto Star, my previous employer for more than twenty incredible years, has put considerable effort into exposing the harm caused by Dr. Charles Smith and his protectors - and into pushing for reform of Ontario's forensic pediatric pathology system. The Star has a "topic" section which focuses on recent stories related to Dr. Charles Smith. It can be found at:

Information on "The Charles Smith Blog Award"- and its nomination process - can be found at:

Harold Levy: Publisher; The Charles Smith Blog;;