The Texas Forensic Science Commission is set to meet next Friday, April 23, for the first time since January. At the last meeting, Commission Chairman John Bradley focused the meeting on policies and procedures rather than pending investigations, including one into the case of Cameron Todd Willingham and other arson cases statewide.
The Innocence Project filed the Willingham case with the commission several years ago, and the commission was set to have a critical discussion of the case at its October meeting. That meeting was canceled after Governor Rick Perry replaced several of the commissioners just after a report from an independent expert hired by the commission found that the forensic analysis in the Willingham case was deeply flawed.
The Fort Worth Star-Telegram reports that the commission may be moving forward with the Willingham investigation and that the case will be discussed at the April 23 meeting.
“I think the commission is looking forward to being able to get down to work,” said [defense attorney and commission member Lance] Evans, who was appointed in October.
Commission Chairman John Bradley told the Star-Telegram in e-mails last week that the commission will discuss the Willingham case and other pending complaints when it meets at the Omni Mandalay Hotel at Las Colinas. It is not known how long resolving the Willingham case will take.
Bradley declined to discuss the commission’s investigations, but three other commissioners said the Willingham inquiry has been tentatively assigned to a three-member investigation panel: Bradley, [Tarrant County Medical Examiner and commissioner Nizam] Peerwani and Sarah Kerrigan, a forensic toxicologist and director of a regional crime lab at Sam Houston State University in Huntsville.
Peerwani said that the screening committee has scheduled a meeting for Thursday in his Fort Worth office but that members of the second panel who were assigned to the Willingham case have yet to get together. It remains unclear to what extent the Willingham panel will rely on the previous work of the original commission, but Peerwani hopes that the panel won’t have to start from scratch.
“We do have a lot of material that the commission has collected,” said Peerwani, who has been Tarrant County’s medical examiner for 30 years. “I don’t think we have to go back and restart all those investigations.”
But “it’s still up in the air. I don’t know what the commission is going to do,” he said.
[Commissioner, professor and chairman of the department of forensic and investigative genetics at the University of North Texas Health Science Center at Fort Worth Jay] Eisenberg, a member of the commission since October 2006, said he is “pleased that we’re going to get back to the discussion.”
“We had invested a lot of time and effort in terms of the material,” Eisenberg said.
For more on the Willingham case and the pending allegation at the Texas Forensic Science Commission,
see our Willingham Resource Center here