Sunday, October 18, 2009

Rick Perry's Chief of Staff Writes Dishonest Letter-to-Editor Regarding Release of Todd Willingham Execution Memos

The Chief of Staff of Governor Rick Perry, Ray Sullivan, has a letter-to-the-editor in today's Longview News-Journal criticizing the paper's Wednesday editorial in which the paper criticized Perry for refusing to release all the documents in the Todd Willingham case that would show whether and to what extent the Governor considered the information given to them by Willingham's lawyer on the day of the execution.

Sullivan says the News-Journal is "just plain wrong", but actually Sullivan is just plain wrong, and he knows he is wrong, so he must be wrong on purpose, which is also called being dishonest. Sullivan says the Governor has "repeatedly made Mr. Hurst's four-page opinion public", but Sullivan knows that the criticism of the governor in the editorial is not about Hurst's letter, but it is that he has not released the memo or memos from Perry's own staff that were used by the governor in his decision making process regarding whether to stay the Willingham execution and has refused to release any documents that would show whether Hurst's letter was read personally by Perry himself.

The people of Texas expect the governor to be fully engaged in decisions on the day of an execution in order to prevent innocent people from being executed. They also expect that the Governor will not engage in a campaign to cover up and delay a state-funded report submitted to a public agency, such as the Texas Forensic Science Commission. Sullivan knows that Perry continues to refuse to release all the relevant documents and that is why many people are concluding that Perry is hiding something that would reflect poorly on him.

Sullivan also says in his letter that "we know full well that Texas newspapers oppose the death penalty, even for the most terrible crimes", which is dishonest too. There are only two major Texas newspapers we know of that have endorsed abolishing the death penalty, so implying that many, most, all or more than two major Texas newspapers oppose the death penalty is exceedingly dishonest.

According to a June 2009 news article in the Statesman, "Sullivan has worked on previous Perry campaigns. He has also been a lobbyist. His clients this year have included Banc Pass Inc., Compass Environmental Inc., Exelon Power Texas, Global Options Inc., HNTB Corp., Redflex Traffic Systems Inc. and Silver Eagle Distributors".

Below is Sullivan's letter-to-the-editor and below that is the editorial he is responding to.

News-Journal editorial off base

In their collective rush to defend a convicted child murderer executed in 2004, many in the Texas press are routinely missing the facts about Gov. Rick Perry and the Cameron Todd Willingham case. The News-Journal's editorial on Wednesday is just the latest example.

Governor Perry routinely makes his official schedules, correspondence and other documents available to the press and public. Our office fully complies with the Public Records Act. In fact, the governor has gone above and beyond by voluntarily releasing personal tax returns, detailed campaign finance data and putting office expenses online.

The News-Journal is just plain wrong about the opinion of Gerald Hurst in the Willingham murder case. Governor Perry's office has repeatedly made Mr. Hurst's four-page opinion public, an opinion considered by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals and the Governor's Office before they upheld the jury verdict in the Willingham case.

We know full well that Texas newspapers oppose the death penalty, even for the most terrible crimes. However, Willingham was convicted by a Texas jury of murdering his three little girls based on the evidence, including a confession.

He was executed only after Texas courts, federal appeals courts and the U.S. Supreme Court reviewed the case and all of the evidence. The case was upheld in every appeal, including nine times by federal courts. Governor Perry is sworn to uphold Texas law, and does so every day.

Ray Sullivan, Austin, Chief of Staff, Office of the Governor

The editorial that Ray Sullivan was responding to was from October 14 and titled, "Governor's secrets: Perry's refusal to release documents the latest example". It is copied in full below.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Gov. Rick Perry is the state's longest-serving governor, even if he gets defeated next year by U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison — who plans to resign next month or so to take on the governor in the Republican primary. Perry pays lip service to freedom of information and sunshine in government, but the fact remains he is arguably the most secretive governor in modern-day state history. His refusal to release the files he reviewed before the execution of Cameron Todd Willingham is just the latest example in a long line of actions designed to keep the public in the dark about the governor's travels, correspondence and how decisions are made.

As has been reported, Perry replaced four members of the state Forensic Commission two days before it was to hear testimony from an independent arson expert, Craig Beyler, hired by the commission. Beyler believes the Corsicana house fire that killed three of Willingham's children was not intentionally set, and the original investigation was terribly flawed.

Willingham was executed in 2004 for the crimes. He went to the death chamber proclaiming his innocence to the end. By replacing those four members, Perry managed to delay the panel hearing the arson report, probably until after the March primary. After all, it wouldn't help his re-election chances if his commission concluded the state executed an innocent man. Sadly, it is very possible that is exactly what happened.

Now Perry is refusing to release the documents he examined to make his decision that the execution should proceed. Among those documents was a report from another arson expert, Gerald Hurst, who also questioned whether the Corsicana fire was arson.

As Keith Elkins, executive director of the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas put it in a story Tuesday in the Dallas Morning News:

"Texas leads the nation in the number of executions. I think everyone would want to know that the decisions to execute someone are being based on the best possible information."

A state Senate panel plans to hold hearings in early November to look into the forensic commission and how it intends to proceed in the Willingham investigation. At least that's one committee with which the governor can't interfere. But he would if he could, we suspect.

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