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A Colosseum in Simi Valley

September 7, 2011

I didn’t watch most of the GOP presidential debate tonight but I did catch the question to Rick Perry regarding 234 people executed during his governorship, the most under any governor ever. When the question was asked, the audience applauded. When Perry responded that he didn’t lose sleep over the possibility that some of those people were innocent, they applauded again. For a moment, the debate became (even more of) a spectacle, the mob cheering for blood. Ancient Rome in Southern California.

The sickening, devastating fact is that at least one of those men was very likely innocent. David Grann’s piece telling the story of Cameron Todd Willingham is probably the best New Yorker article I’ve ever read. Willingham was accused and convicted of murdering his three daughters by setting his house on fire. Later, modern forensic techniques revealed that much of the evidence used to convict Willingham – mainly the testimony of a supposed arson expert – was called into question by a modern arson investigator. Perry denied Willingham’s appeal and he was executed. The case was later set to be considered by the Texas’s state forensic commission but, just before it was an initial hearing was scheduled, Perry appointed a new board chair. The new chair cancelled the hearing and subsequently failed to complete the investigation. According to an investigator hired by the commission, Grann writes, “[the original] investigators in the Willingham case had no scientific basis for claiming that the fire was arson, ignored evidence that contradicted their theory, had no comprehension of flashover and fire dynamics, relied on discredited folklore, and failed to eliminate potential accidental or alternative causes of the fire.” It’s staggering, disgusting even, that Gov. Perry can stand on national television and say his conscience is clear, and that the audience applauded him, given that every indicator points to Willingham’s innocence.

Perry also said tonight that he doesn’t believe in anthropogenic climate change and that Social Security is a Ponzi scheme. He has a significant lead in the polls. As ineffective/capitulatory/uninspiring as Obama has been, the alternative is looking far worse.

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