Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Perry attorneys: Willingham arson probe "waste of money"

The old saw about "it's not the crime, it's the cover-up" means that the governor is desperate to hide the fact that he let an innocent man be executed.

Lawyers representing Gov. Rick Perry on two occasions grilled Austin lawyer Sam Bassett on the activities of his Texas Forensic Science Commission, telling him its probe into a controversial Corsicana arson case was inappropriate and opining that the hiring of a nationally known fire expert was a “waste of state money,” the ousted commission chairman said Tuesday.

Bassett, who served two two-year terms as commission chairman before Perry replaced him on Sept. 30, said he was so concerned about what he considered “pressure” from the lawyers that he conferred with an aide to state Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, who reassured him “the commission was doing what it's supposed to do.” ...

Perry spokeswoman Allison Castle confirmed the lawyers met with Bassett, but only for routine, informational purposes. “They did not ask him to discontinue this review,” she said.

No, I'm sure they didn't. They just told him it was a "waste of state money". And made a few other 'suggestions' that left Bassett with the distinct impression that he was being "pressured" to drop the investigation.

Bassett said he was called to meet with then-General Counsel David Cabrales and Deputy General Counsel Mary Anne Wiley on Feb. 3. Bassett described the session as progressively confrontational.

As Bassett outlined the commission's investigations of the Willingham case and that of Brandon Lee Moon, an El Paso man wrongly convicted of sexual assault, Cabrales told the chairman “he didn't think those kinds of investigations were the kind contemplated by the statute,” Bassett said.

“I think he said something along the lines that we should be more forward-looking, more current rather than examining older cases,” Basset said. Later in the discussion, Bassett said, he was told the Moon investigation was appropriate, but the Willingham case was not.

Bassett later reviewed the statute, and, feeling vindicated, sent a copy to the governor's lawyers along with a copy of the complaint that prompted the Willingham investigation.

At one point, the lawyers asked Bassett how the panel chose Beyler to review the Willingham case. Bassett said he explained state regulations, requiring the soliciting of bids, were followed. When Wiley asked how much Beyler had been paid, Bassett said he responded, “$30,000, maybe a little more.”

Wiley then remarked, “That sounds like a waste of state money,” according to Bassett.

Bassett said he was a novice in the role of commission chairman and was uncertain how to interpret the lawyers' remarks.

“I was surprised at the level of involvement that they wanted to have in commission decision-making,” he said.

After the February meeting, a representative of the governor's office for the first time attended commission meetings.

Bassett was summoned to a second meeting with Wiley on March 19. That session seemed less confrontational, he said, although Wiley mentioned there was concern the Legislature might discontinue the commission's funding.

“She wanted the commission's focus to be more on liaisons with crime labs, oversight of existing facilities and so forth,” he said.

Nice prevarication, Ms. Castle.

The case continues to rise in national profile, but the travesty simply doesn't seem to be sticking to the governor among the Texas electorate. Attitudes about him appear to be hardened.

Can Kay Bailey make this an issue in the primary? Does she dare? It may take her months to decide whether criticizing the governor's decisions regarding the case is worth risking the flak she'll take from the pro-death penalty Republican base.

Furious polling is no doubt currently underway by all sides to determine their POV. Mike Baselice is staying up way too late trying to figure out a way to spin this to Perry's advantage.

Update: Via BOR, the report last night from "AC360"...

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