News 11.09.09

Background: Texas Forensic Science Commission’s Work

The Legislature created the Texas Forensic Science Commission with a clear mandate to investigate allegations of negligence or misconduct that substantially affects the integrity of forensic analysis and recommend corrective action. While the commission was slow to get started because members were not appointed and funding was not appropriated, it eventually began its work in a deliberate, thoughtful, objective and transparent manner.

With respect to the Willingham case, the commission is trying to determine whether forensic analysts negligently used unreliable methods, whether there are other past cases where unreliable arson analysis was employed, and what, if any, corrective action should be taken. As it investigates the Willingham case, the commission is also reviewing the case of Ernest Willis, who was convicted based on forensic analysis identical to that used in the Willingham case – but was exonerated because the forensic analysis was wrong.


June 2005

— House Bill 1068, creating Texas Forensic Science Commission, is signed into law.


May 2006

— The allegation about forensic analysis in the Willingham and Willis cases – and the integrity of forensic analysis in arson cases statewide – is filed with the commission by the Innocence Project.


Oct. 2007

— The Forensic Science Commission holds its first meeting.


Aug. 2008

— The commission receives supplemental information from the Innocence Project detailing the scope of the alleged negligence or misconduct and its impact on forensic analysis in other arson cases.


Aug. 2008

— The commission unanimously decides to investigate the arson allegation, clarifying that the “main question for the arson review specialist will be to determine whether or not the testimony of the expert [in the Willingham case] was negligent or whether it was actually valid at the time of testimony.”


Dec. 2008

— After thoroughly vetting several leading experts to conduct an independent investigation of the forensic analysis in the Willingham case, the commission selects Dr. Craig Beyler, citing his clear qualifications and relevant experience.


Feb. 2009

— The commission discusses the need for confidentiality in its investigation of the arson cases and decides to send a letter to the State Fire Marshal formally requesting a response to the issues raised in the allegation.


March 2009

— The commission is told that Dr. Beyler is still thoroughly researching and investigating the allegation. The State Fire Marshal’s Office tells the commission that it would gladly accept the invitation to share information with the commission about how arson cases are currently being handled.


Aug. 2009

— Dr. Beyler files his report with the commission, which releases it to the public in response to Open Records Act requests on the advice of the state Attorney General’s Office.

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