Is Perry trying to cover up wrongful execution in Texas?

AUSTIN -- Three ousted members of the Texas Forensic Science Commission said Thursday that their abrupt removal by Gov. Rick Perry this week could slow the panel's efforts to determine if a flawed arson investigation led to the execution of an innocent man five years ago.

But Perry said the commission's inquiry will continue, telling reporters that his decision to replace the three commission members was part of the normal appointments process. Their terms expired Sept. 1.

Perry removed Chairman Sam Bassett and commission members Alan Levy and Aliece Watts on Wednesday, two days before the obscure panel was scheduled to discuss a forensic report challenging the arson findings that that led to Cameron Todd Willingham’s execution in 2004.

Willingham, of Corsicana, was found guilty in the deaths of his three daughters in a 1991 fire. Willingham said that he was asleep in his house when the fire started and denied that he deliberately killed his daughters.

In telephone interviews, the commission members who got the boot said they were surprised and disappointed with Perry’s decision to replace them and expressed concern that the shake-up could disrupt or at least slow the pace of the panel’s inquiry. Levy is a top prosecutor in the Tarrant County district attorney’s office. Watts, who lives in Burleson, is a forensic scientist at Integrated Forensic Laboratories in Euless. Bassett is an Austin attorney.

The panel had been scheduled to meet today in Irving to hear expert Craig Beyler, who authored the report challenging the conclusions of the arson investigation. The meeting was canceled after the dismissals.

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