Texas Gov. Perry labels forensics panel story a 'media sideshow'

AUSTIN -- Gov. Rick Perry, seeking to defuse an election-season controversy over the 2004 execution of Cameron Todd Willingham, described Willingham on Wednesday as a "monster" and "bad man" whose conviction in the deaths of his three daughters was sustained "every step of the way" by the courts.

Perry, facing a vigorous re-election challenge, has drawn national media scrutiny after shaking up the Texas Forensic Science Commission. Perry dismissed three members two days before the panel was to review an expert report challenging the arson investigation that led to Willingham’s execution. A fourth member was dismissed later.

The controversy took another turn Wednesday night when Craig Beyler, the Baltimore fire expert who wrote the report, called for the reinstatement of the ousted members and the resignations of Perry’s replacements. "Sadly, the political influence which has been exercised with respect to the commission has compromised the integrity of the enterprise," Beyler said in an e-mail to commission coordinator Leigh Tomlin and ousted Chairman Sam Bassett.

Beyler said Perry should have recused himself from making the commission appointments, contending that the governor has a "conflict of interest" because he allowed the execution to be carried out after rejecting a last-minute postponement bid from Willingham’s attorney.

"He had a personal role in the Willingham case," Beyler wrote. "Under these circumstances, he should have recused himself from making appointments. His failure to recuse himself is both unethical and injurious to the cause of justice."

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