Arson Expert: Perry’s “Conflict” Hurts Panel’s Credibility

ZUMA Press/Newscom

A nationally known arson expert who had been scheduled to testify before a Texas panel probing an investigation that may have led to the death of an innocent man has slammed Governor Rick Perry’s handling of the case.

In an email to an official for the Texas Forensic Science Commission, Craig Beyler called for the appointment of the panel members ousted by Perry last month, and the resignation of the new members that Perry appointed in their place. And he said that Perry, a Republican, should recuse himself from making appointments to the panel because — having signed off on the execution despite a last minute bid from the convicted man’s lawyer for a postponement — the governor has a “conflict of interest.”Just days ahead of Beyler’s scheduled testimony before the commission early this month, Perry declined to reappoint the panel’s chair, as well as two other members whose terms were expiring. Perry appointed a new chair, who abruptly canceled Beyler’s planned testimony.

The ousted chair, Sam Bassett, has said he was pressured by Perry aides about the direction of the commission’s probe.

Wrote Beyler to commission coordinator Leigh Tomlin and to Bassett:

Sadly, the political influence which has been exercised with respect to the commission has compromised the integrity of the enterprise.

He added:

[Perry] had a personal role in the Willingham case. 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.

In an interview with the Fort-Worth Telegram, Beyler said he doesn’t “have any illusions” that the new members will resign. But he said he wrote the email because he was concerned that Perry’s moves and the furor they’ve generated could “eat away at the credibility of the commission.”

He added: “Something has to happen to get that credibility back.”

Of course, Beyler is an arson expert, not a lawyer or a judge. But his claim that Perry has a conflict and should recuse himself from having anything to do with the panel appears to mark the first time that that argument has been made explicitly by a player in the controversy.

On Wednesday, Perry defended his handling of the case, (classily) calling the executed man, Cameron Willingham, a “monster,” and dismissing the controversy over Beyler’s canceled testimony and the panel’s change in personnel as a “media sideshow.”