Governor Rick Perry refused Cameron Todd Willingham a stay of execution in 2004

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Governor Rick Perry refused Cameron Todd Willingham a stay of execution in 2004 he was executed that year. Forensic scientists later concluded that Willingham was innocent. Perry responded by 'shaking-up' an investigative commission and standing by his refusal.

An investigation into claims that faulty evidence led Texas to execute an innocent man in 2004 was at a "crucial point" when the state's governor replaced three of its members this week, one of the three said Thursday.

Gov. Rick Perry's shake-up of the Texas Forensic Science Commission came two days before it was to hear from the author of a scathing report in the case of Cameron Todd Willingham. That Friday session has been postponed indefinitely in the wake of Perry's new appointments, and critics of the governor accused him of trying to quash the Willingham probe.
"I think people are making a lot of this issue," Perry told reporters Thursday in Austin, Texas. He said the replacement of commission Chairman Sam Bassett and commissioners Alan Levy and Aliece Watts, whose terms had expired, was "pretty normal protocol."

"If you've got a whole new investigation going forward, it makes a lot more sense to put the new people in now and let them start the full process, rather than bring people in there for a short period of time and then replace them," he said. "I think it makes a whole lot more sense to make a change now than to make a change later."

The Forensic Science Commission began investigating the Willingham case in 2008, hiring Maryland fire investigation expert Craig Beyler to examine the evidence used to convince a jury the fire that killed Willingham's three daughters was deliberately set. Levy said Thursday he told the governor's office "that it would be disruptive to make the new appointments right now."

"The commission was at a crucial point in the investigation," he said. Asked about the future of the Willingham investigation, he said, "I don't know if it will ever be heard."

Levy, a top prosecutor in Fort Worth, Texas, said he had asked to remain on the commission, but received no response from the governor's office. Sam Bassett, the panel's former chairman, said he also asked to remain.

Beyler's report is the latest of three to conclude that arson was not the likely cause of the 1991 fire, and the first commissioned by a state agency. Death penalty opponents say an impartial review of the Willingham case could lead to an unprecedented admission that the state executed an innocent man.