Texas Supreme Court Justice David Medina, who was once indicted in an arson case, was Gov. Rick Perry’s general counsel when Perry denied a stay of execution to Cameron Todd Willingham. Willingham received the death penalty for the alleged arson deaths of his three daughters. Perry appointed Medina to the high court in November, 2004. In a controversial 2007 case involving the burning of their home, Medina and his wife were indicted — and subsequently cleared — in connection with a fire experts ruled was arson. They were accused of tampering with the evidence.
Significantly, the Medinas based their defense on criticism of arson investigators, the same kind of criticism that’s been leveled against those who investigated Willingham in the house fire in which his three children were killed.
It is not known what role Medina may have played in the governor’s office deliberations in the Willingham case. It is not known because Perry has refused to disclose any information about those deliberations. Medina’s possible involvement would be extremely embarrasing for Perry and his office.
A Harris County grand jury indicted Medina and his wife in connection with the 2007 fire that destroyed their home in Spring, Texas. Then-Harris County District Attorney Chuck Rosenthal moved immediately to have the indictments against his fellow Republicans dismissed. At the time, Rosenthal himself was embroiled in a controversy that led to his resignation.
On February 17, 2004, An arson expert delivered a fax to Perry’s office questioning the evidence against Willingham just 88 minutes before he was executed. As general counsel, Medina would have been in a position to have received and reviewed the fax.
Francisca Medina was re-indicted after the initial indictments were thrown out. In August, her indictment was dismissed. Listen to her attorney Dick DeGuerin:
“We laid all our cards on the table and let the prosecutor interview our two witnesses, who say there is no way this is arson,” said Medina’s attorney, Dick DeGuerin. “Our guys collected much more evidence than the fire marshal’s office did. They collected evidence that is indicative, but not conclusory, of an electrical fire.”
“[Medina and DeGuerin's experts] were very critical of the fire marshal’s office for their failure to look at other possibilities and to follow other leads,” DeGuerin said.
How about that. A powerful person connected to the governor can get arson experts involved to question the work of a fire marshall’s arson investigators. Willingham wasn’t so privileged.
Medina was experiencing severe financial troubles at the time his house burned down. After the indictment against his wife was dismissed in August, Justice Medina issued a statement thanking God that justice was served.
If it turns out Medina — a man who escaped legal accountability through claims of a flawed arson investigation – was responsible for turning away evidence of a flawed arson investigation in a capital murder case, Perry and his administration, to say nothing of the Texas Supreme Court on which Medina still sits, would be deeply embarrassed.
Now, it remains possible that Medina was so new to the job in February, 2004, that he played little role in the Willingham case. Since he would have been in charge of the governor’s office handling of such a matter, it’s likely he was involved. We don’t know, however, because Perry has decided to keep secret all documents related to the deliberations.
I think we may know why.
UPDATE: Clarified that Medina was indicted for tampering with evidence in the arson.