'Houston Chron' vs. Texas Governor on Execution Report

By: Gov. Rick Perry's office is refusing to release information about how it reviewed an attorney's attempt to stop an execution based on an arson expert's report, arguing that staff comments and analyses of the report aren't public records.

The Houston Chronicle reported Sunday that it tried unsuccessfully to obtain documents that might show whether Perry reviewed or if his staff discussed the report. It was faxed to the governor just 88 minutes before Cameron Todd Willingham was executed in February 2004.

The newspaper cited records it did obtain that showed Perry's office got the five-page faxed report at 4:52 p.m. on Feb. 17, 2004. The newspaper reported that it was unclear from the records whether Perry had read the arson report that day.

A statement from Perry spokesman Chris Cutrone, sent to the Chronicle late Friday, said that "given the brevity of (the) report and the general counsel's familiarity with all the other facts in the case, there was ample time for the general counsel to read and analyze the report and to brief the governor on its content."

Willingham, 36, was convicted of setting the fire that killed his three young children, 2-year-old Amber and 1-year-old twins Karmon and Kameron, on Dec. 23, 1991, in the family's Corsicana home.

Investigators with the Texas State Fire Marshal's Office ruled it an arson started by an accelerant. The report sent to Perry by Austin-based arson expert Gerald Hurst, who holds a doctorate in chemistry from Cambridge University, said investigators "made errors" and relied on discredited techniques.

Willingham's attorney, Walter M. Reaves Jr., first alerted Perry about the new arson analysis three days before the execution and requested more time to develop it.

"There is nothing more I would like than to be able to present you with evidence of actual innocence," Reaves wrote Perry, according to a document released to the Chronicle. "I think we are close ... The death penalty whether you agree with it or not, should be reserved for the most serious crimes. More importantly, it should be reserved for those crimes about which there is no doubt about the guilt of the person."

Reaves later got word that Perry would not stop the execution and Willingham went to his death, at 6:20 p.m., proclaiming his innocence.

Summaries of gubernatorial reviews of execution cases previously were released as public records in Texas, most recently under former Gov. George W. Bush.


Information from: Houston Chronicle, http://www.houstonchronicle.com


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