By Stephen Saloom, Innocence Project Policy Director
I attended a meeting of the Texas Forensic Science Commission in Houston on Friday, and came away more convinced than ever that the group’s chairman, John Bradley, is out to block a full and public investigation of forensics used to convict Cameron Todd Willingham of arson.
Prior to Bradley’s installation last fall as chairman of the Texas Forensic Science Commission, the panel had prudently and efficiently investigated the very similar yet unrelated arson cases of Willingham and Ernest Willis, where both had been sentenced to death. (In Mr. Willis’s case, the prosecutor and courts discovered their error and he was deemed actually innocent by the state of Texas; Mr. Willingham was executed before the government acknowledged the error).
Mr. Bradley’s first act as Commissioner was to substitute his judgment for the Commission’s and indefinitely postpone that investigation. Nine months passed before the group was finally allowed to revisit the case.
Not only did Mr. Bradley drive the investigation behind closed doors to a subcommittee (partly in order to subvert the Texas Open Meetings Act requirements), but he also orchestrated the subcommittee’s work toward determining that there was insufficient evidence to find negligence in the arson analysis underlying Willingham’s conviction – despite the Commission not having completed its investigation. Some members seemed willing to follow that suggestion from the Chairman, but Innocence Project Co-Director Barry Scheck noted that the commission was failing to consider fundamental aspects of the allegation, and urged it to reserve its judgment until it properly completed its investigation. Ultimately the Commission unanimously agreed that they needed more information, and did NOT make any finding at the meeting.. The Innocence Project will continue to work to ensure that they act in public view, and in proper consideration of all of the relevant information.
One valuable result of the day’s proceedings was that Patricia Cox, Willingham’s cousin and Eugenia Willingham, Willingham’s stepmother – who traveled from Oklahoma to be at the meeting – were able to address the Commission.
Cox noted that the Commission agreed that her cousin had been convicted and executed based on faulty evidence, whether the Commission chooses to call that “negligence” or not.