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The Brief: Oct. 6, 2010

Controversy could thwart Cameron Todd Willingham's day back in court.

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THE BIG CONVERSATION:

Controversy could thwart Cameron Todd Willingham's day back in court.

That's because a key prosecutor is asking District Judge Charlie Baird — who was set today to re-examine the conviction of Willingham, the Corsicana man executed in 2004 for killing his three daughters in an arson blaze — to recuse himself from the case.

The Tribune's Brandi Grissom reports that in 1995, Baird sat on the court of criminal appeals that reaffirmed Willingham's death sentence — a fact that troubles Navarro County District Attorney R. Lowell Thompson, whose office originally prosecuted Willingham. Thompson filed a motion Monday looking to disqualify Baird on those grounds, as well as for, Thompson says, Baird's reported opposition to the death penalty.

The case has made headlines for years, with investigators alleging that faulty science was used to convict Willingham, whose family, seeking to restore his name, pushed for a petition requesting the so-called court of inquiry into Willingham's guilt.

Baird wouldn't comment Tuesday on any potential ruling, but as Grissom notes, he has appeared willing to review the unanimous 1995 ruling of which he was a part. "It just seems to me like the enormity of the issue ... is just as large as it [gets] in the criminal justice system," Baird said. "The seminal issue of, did we wrongfully execute someone, is just overwhelming."

As of late Tuesday, the hearing remained slated for today. Read Grissom's full report on the matter here.

CULLED:

  • Skepticism is mounting over the border lake attack that left a U.S. man dead last week. With his body yet to be found and his wife, who survived the alleged attack, on a media blitz Tuesday, some began to suspect, among other things, a botched drug deal.
  • Texans seem to like the idea of levying sin taxes — on alcohol, gambling and marijuana — to cover the state's budget shortfall, according to a Texas Lyceum poll released Tuesday. Expect numbers from Lyceum on the governor's race today.
  • Attorney General Greg Abbott's call on Monday for a moratorium on home foreclosures didn't stop proceedings in a number of counties across the state, including Harris and Tarrant.

"If we had that kind of money … we'd have fancier headquarters and would probably be doing TV and radio and all sorts of fun things. …"Bill Fairbrother, chairman of the Williamson County Republican Party, which assured the Austin American-Statesman on Tuesday that a $5 million doughnut purchase listed on its latest finance report was a typo

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