The politics of death

Posted in 2010 Primary, Around The State, Bad Government Republicans, Commentary, Criminal Justice, Cronyism, District Attorney, Election 2010, Williamson County at 9:35 pm by wcnews

There are several issues to deal with when it comes to Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s decision yesterday to remove three members of the Texas Forensic Science Commission (FSC).  Including his appointment of Williamson County DA John Bradley as the new commissioner.

After reading several items, (which will be linked below), on this issue it’s obvious this was a political decision for Perry.  This action has little to do with the truth, or finding out what went wrong and correcting it so it doesn’t happen again.  It appears to have more to do with making sure the investigation stalls, and that Perry’s reelection isn’t mortally wounded by this horrible mistake.  That is why his ploy will be to try and make this about the death penalty, as opposed to whether an innocent man was killed by the state.  Here’s an excerpt from Glen Smith’s post  at Dog Canyon.

So Perry fired the commissioners, and the meeting’s been cancelled. Perry no doubt feels like a little death penalty squabble will fire up his right wing base. His Republican opponent, Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, offered mild criticism of Perry, but stressed that she was a strong supporter of the death penalty. Such cowardice is business as usual with these two.

Here’s Perry’s thinking: His voters support the death penalty. Texans won’t learn enough about the details of the case to think it’s anything but an argument over the death penalty, and he’ll be on the right side of that argument. End of story. The great moral matters of innocence and death are reduced to insignificant little nothings. This is why it is deadly important that the press get the facts to voters.


Next time, it might be someone you love who is wrongly accused. It might even be you. The debate over the death penalty will go on. Meanwhile, the actions of Rick Perry must be judged within the context of today’s law. In that context, Perry’s actions are morally repugnant. Perry ought to want to know the truth of the matter. The truth won’t hurt him politically and it might save his soul.

I have no doubt Perry will try to make this a debate about the death penalty. It is not. At the core, it should be a debate about the governor’s moral judgment. He could probably fight that debate to a draw by standing up now for the truth. Instead, he’s managed to make the best argument to date for a moratorium on executions.

Of course, another aspect that points to this being a political move, is that he appointed a partisan hack as the new chairman.  More on that from Paul Burka, The Cover-Up.

Let’s call this what it is: a cover-up. The new chairman, Williamson County district attorney John Bradley, is a political ally of Perry’s (see below) who famously tough on crime. It would be a conversion of mythic proportions if he were to agree with the investigators’ criticism. He now controls when the commission will meet, and you can bet that the report will not be heard or discussed in a public forum before the March 2 primary.

This example of Bradley at work is from “Grits for Breakfast,” the excellent criminal justice blog, in 2005:

During the hearing Thursday on HB 2193, which would strengthen Texas’ probation system, the Statesman’s Mike Ward reports that aides to Governor Perry proposed gutting amendments to the bill. The proposals were apparently supplied by Williamson County District Attorney John Bradley, the only bill opponent who spoke at the hearing.

Of course that leaves the question Why would Bradley take the job, or maybe a better question is would anyone else have taken the job? Only an ideologue would take it. In other words, it’s extremely likely that Perry was only going to appoint someone who he knew was going to run this commission the way he wants it to be run. And who would take a job as chair a commission to do Perry’s bidding? A partisan hack, that’s who.

Of course, that may not be the case. And there’s a way for Bradley and Perry to prove everyone wrong. It’s very simple, as Kuff points out, all Bradly has to do is Reschedule the meeting.

If you [Bradley] have any respect for the Commission and its members, then your unfamiliarity with the Beyler report should not prevent you from making a commitment to hold the hearing that was scheduled for tomorrow at another time. You don’t have to set a date yet, but a simple statement that once you have spent the weekend boning up on the materials you will put it back on the calendar forthwith would offer reassurance that this isn’t about politics. Give Dr. Beyler a call – it’s just common courtesy, after all – to check what his schedule is like, and to let him know that you look forward to hearing from him in a few weeks. I really don’t think that’s too much to ask.

In essence if this case is either postponed beyond the primary or is handled drastically different than it has been so far, that will confirm the reason for Bradley’s appointment as being a political cover up. More signs that point to it being political is that it was done with such short notice and so close to the upcoming hearing.

On Wednesday, the governor chose not to extend the appointments of commission chairman Sam Bassett, an Austin lawyer, as well as Fort Worth prosecutor Alan Levy and a forensic lab specialist, Aliece Watts of Burleson.

Levy’s position, reserved by statute for a prosecutor, was given to Bradley, and the governor immediately named him chairman of the nine-member commission. Watts was replaced by forensic pathologist Norma Jean Farley of Harlingen. A replacement for Bassett, who held the slot reserved for a criminal defense attorney, was not named.

All of their terms had expired Sept. 1, but Bassett, named chairman by Perry two years ago, had asked to retain his slot.

Bradley said he learned of the appointment Wednesday morning when he was called by the governor’s office. He said it was not a position he sought.

He said he canceled Friday’s commission meeting because he thought “it was too much to ask for myself and the new members to absorb,” and because he wanted time to review the Beyler report and materials.

Bradley said he is not yet “informed enough” to know if he would ask Beyler to present his report at a future meeting or continue the line of questioning begun unanimously by the commission.

“I just know it’s going to keep my weekend busy,” Bradley said.

Bassett said he learned Wednesday morning that he was being replaced – and the timing disturbed him.

“In my view, we should not fail to investigate important forensic issues in cases simply because there might be political ramifications,” Bassett said.

Others still are comparing Perry’s actions to those of Nixon, Is Perry pulling a Nixon?

“Is it true?” the Innocence Project’s Barry Scheck asked me when I called him for comment, unable to believe it himself.

Scheck likened the move to President Richard Nixon’s infamous attempts to oust a special prosecutor investigating Watergate.

“It’s a Saturday night massacre, pure and simple,” Scheck said. “If you don’t like the evidence, you just get rid of the judges.”

It’s unlikely this will play any part in the GOP primary as Hutchison’s comments above show. Democratic candidates for governor – Tom Schieffer, and Hank Gilbert – both made statements condemning Perry’s actions.  But what this shows is that one party controlling all the levers of power in Texas can be deadly. A governor can act this way when there is no accountability. That’s why it’s so imperative that we elect Democrats statewide and more in both chambers of the legislature in 2010.


  1. Eye on Williamson » Worst fears realized as Bradley misses hearing said,

    April 8, 2010 at 12:32 pm

    […] Williamson County DA John Bradley to had the Texas Forensic Science Commission is happening – delay and cover-up.  John Bradley decided to avoid yesterday’s House Public Safety Committee hearing, Lawmakers […]

  2. Eye on Williamson » No matter what happens, Bradley has already done the job said,

    March 3, 2011 at 12:05 pm

    […] All of that being said, whether Bradley get’s confirmed to a full-term is irrelevant. He has already done the job he was appointed to do – make sure the Willingham case was postponed, some said “covered up”, and didn’t become an issue …. […]

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