Thursday, October 15, 2009

Palmetto State 1, Lone Star State 0

Person after person has stood up and testified to facts of this case that quite frankly you all aren't covering.
That's what Rick Perry, Governor of the great state of Texas said in explaining how it is that Cameron Todd Willingham killed his children. OK, he actually said more than that. Here's the full quote according to the press.
Willingham was a monster,” the governor said. “Here's a guy who murdered his three children, who tried to beat his wife into an abortion so he wouldn't have those kids. Person after person has stood up and testified to facts of this case that, quite frankly, you all are not covering
Got it. He's a monster. Her murdered his kids. He tried to cause a miscarriage (Perry said "abortion," but he didn't mean that.) That's how we know he murdered his kids. Because he's a monster who tried to cause a miscarriage.

Oh, wait, I'm not being fair. He's a bad guy, too.
This is a bad man. This is a guy who in the death chamber in his last breath spews an obscenity-laced triad (sic) against his wife.
Monster, bad guy, obscenity-spewer, attempted miscarriage-maker. (By the way, the record indicates he hit his wife while she was pregnant; there's no indication that he was trying to cause a miscarriage - or an abortion.) Naturally he must have killed his kids.

There's just one small problem. How'd he do it, exactly?

See, the idea is that he set his house on fire to kill them. That's what the jury was told. That's how the kids died. That's what the experts say he didn't do.

You know, experts, the guys who actually study these things, conduct experiments, look at the science. They said - several of them - there's no indication, none, that the fire was arson. According to Perry, that doesn't matter. They're just "supposed" experts (including the one chosen by the state's Forensic Science Commission to study the evidence and report back, but you can't expect much of the Commission - after all Perry just replaced several members.)

Anyway, the experts don't count. And it doesn't matter how the kids died. Willingham killed them. If it wasn't by the arson, then he must have done it some other way. (How convenient that the fire came along when it did and wiped out the evidence of his other killing method.) How do I know that? Easy.

Willingham was a monster, bad guy, obscenity-spewer, attempted miscarriage-maker.

Therefore, he killed his kids.

It's so easy when the labels solve the problem. If he's a monster, that's really all you need to know. Besides, remember all those other witnesses who nobody's focusing on. And why is that?

Well, see, that's because being a monster, bad guy, obscenity-spewer, attempted miscarriage-maker is not quite the same thing as being the killer of your kids.

Let's cut to the chase here. Maybe Willingham wanted his kids dead. (There's really no evidence of that, but let's just believe it). Maybe he'd have liked to have killed them. But they died in a fire. And there's no credible evidence that the fire was set. None. Willingham being a monster is not the same as Willingham committing this crime.

Stalin was responsible for more than 20 million deaths, it appears. Hitler oversaw the execution of 6 million Jews and who knows how many others. Pol Pot saw to the death of a couple of million of his countrymen. Monsters? Maybe they deserve the term. But you know what, some people in the Soviet Union, and in Nazi Germany, and in Cambodia during Pol Pot's reign died for reasons and in ways that had nothing to do with those men.

It's pretty clear that Willingham wasn't going to win any citizen of the year awards down in Corsicana. It's also pretty clear that Willingham didn't kill his kids. Not certain, but pretty clear.

Look, I can think of reasons Perry might not want to believe that. Lots of them. I can understand him getting defensive and fooling himself about the evidence. But when your argument is that he must have done it because he's a bad person, it's time to hang 'em up.

Sometimes you just have to suck it up and take responsibility and say, "Dammit, maybe a terrible thing happened here." Maybe. Just maybe.

And maybe Texas can take a lesson from South Carolina.

Back in 1915, Thomas and Meeks Griffin, African-Americans and brothers were killed in the electric chair for the 1913 murder of John Q. Lewis, a 73-year-old Civil War veteran. Except that they didn't do it.

Wednesday, the South Carolina pardon board voted unanimously to grant them pardons. Dwayne Green, an African-American member of the pardon board put it this way:
There's no statute of limitations on doing the right thing.
Governor Perry, are you listening?

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