Thursday, April 22, 2010

Will the Forensic Science Commission Ever Rule on the Todd Willingham Case?

It looks like the Texas Forensic Science Commission, the body that oversees the use of forensic science in the state’s criminal justice system, has gotten the ground put under its feet again. This piece at the Austin American-Statesman announced that a 3-member subcommittee will finally hear testimony tomorrow from fire scientist Dr. Craig Beyler.

Beyler, as it turns out, filed a report last year that seriously questioned the forensic evidence used to convict and execute former living human being Todd Willingham, who was accused of burning his own family to death by setting his house afire.

But just two days before he could present his report to the Commission, it was gutted by Rick Perry, who replaced the chairman and two commissioners. The chair immediately postponed their October meeting. Beyler’s testimony was not placed on their January meeting agenda either.

At issue in the Republican primary last March was the Kay Bailey Hutchison allegation that Rick Perry beheaded the Texas Forensic Commission last year so that it could not rule on the Todd Willingham case until after the primary.

Not that Hutchison was a bleeding heart in this. As correctly pointed out in the American-Statesman piece, “the Willingham matter didn't register with Republican primary voters anyway.” Meaning, of course, that Republican primary voters are all about the death penalty and the generous application of it.

As mentioned in a piece I wrote on this some time ago, the issue Hutchison raised at the time was that Perry was being reckless in this move, because it gave something for Democrats to beat over his head with in the fall, should he win the primary.

Hutchison and I rarely agree on anything, but she hit the nail on the head with that one.

So this is something to watch tomorrow. Will the sub-committee actually meet? Will they take Beyler’s testimony? Or is this a drama in a many-act play that will come and go all year?

Because all of these objections to the forensic evidence that convicted him were raised before Todd Willingham was executed in 2004: an execution that Perry could have stayed or even commuted.

Note now, that this isn’t going to be the meaty issue that it could be in the fall, as Bill White is in favor of the death penalty, and opposes having a moratorium on executions, preferring to settle these matters on a case-by-case basis.

White is a canny politician who probably realizes that you can’t run for governor in Texas - and win - without stating a willingness to execute some of its citizens from time to time.

But it does leave open the notion that Perry opted not to decide on this case despite the testimony of expert scientists. He literally ignored them.

But my money is on Perry in this one. A 3-man subcommittee can’t rule on anything. It takes the chairman to put the matter on the agenda, and the TFSC just changed their rules last January. Now it appears that the chairman has the sole authority to set the agenda.

Chairman John Bradley is Perry’s man. My guess is that if he wants to stay in the chair, and if he wants to continue to do the biddings of his patron, Rick Perry, Bradley will continue to stonewall this thing well into next year.

1 comment:

Texas Moratorium Network said...

Anyone who believes that all committee meetings of the Texas Forensic Science Commission should be public and not private, secret closed door meetings, should write commission Chair John Bradley and other Commission members urging them to make the meetings public and to post notices on the Commission website of when and where the subcommittee meetings will take place.

Urge Texas Forensic Science Commission to Hold Public Meetings in Todd Willingham Case