Capital punishment is sacrosanct in Texas, which executes more inmates than any other state. No serious candidate from either party runs against it.
So it was with some delicacy that Perry's opponent for the Republican nomination for governor, U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, took on the Willingham case.
"I just think the governor made a mistake in trying to ramrod a covering up of what might be more evidence for the future," Hutchison told a Dallas-Fort Worth radio station.
Perry's office pounced on Hutchison, knowing the popularity of capital punishment in Texas — upwards of 70 percent of the population support it.
"If the senator is suggesting she opposes the death penalty for an individual who murdered his three daughters, then she should just say so," said the governor's spokeswoman, Allison Castle.
However, the senator had started her statement by saying she's "a steadfast supporter of the death penalty."
"The point that Hutchison is trying to make about Rick Perry is that he's hurt the death penalty, weakened it, by making it look to people outside Texas — and a lot of people in Texas — that he's playing fast and loose with the death penalty," said Dave McNeely, a longtime political journalist in Austin.
Perry, who gained his seat after George W. Bush left the Texas governor's mansion for the White House in 2001, is the longest-serving governor in Texas history. He's seeking an unprecedented third term.
Perry's new chairman of the Forensic Science Commission, John Bradley, is a hard-nosed district attorney and a conservative ally of the governor. He says he needs time to study the Willingham arson report and has not set a new date for the commission to consider it.
Tenth Annual March to Abolish the Death Penalty
October 24, 2009 at 2 PM
Texas State Capitol Building South Side (11th and Congress)
Three innocent, exonerated former death row prisoners will be among the special guests at the Tenth Annual March to Abolish the Death Penalty October 24, 2009 at 2 PM in Austin, Texas at the Texas Capitol on the South Steps at 11th and Congress. Also attending will be the penpal of Todd Willingham, Elizabeth Gilbert, who first investigated his innocence. Plus, Todd’s last lawyer Walter Reaves. Please attend the march to support the Willingham family as they fight to prove that Todd Willingham was innocent.