Couple of good op-eds in the papers in the past few days concerning the Cameron Todd Willingham case. First, here’s State Sen. Rodney Ellis and Barry Scheck of the Innocence Project focusing on the forensics:
In 2006, the Innocence Project brought the Willingham case to Texas’ Forensic Science Commission, which the state Legislature had created a year earlier. The Legislature created this commission to investigate allegations of negligence or misconduct that substantially affects the integrity of forensic analysis and recommend corrective action. The commission’s charge is straightforward and clear, and the Willingham case fits squarely within it.
The filing that kicked off the commission’s investigation didn’t just focus on Willingham’s case. It also included the case of Ernest Willis, who was convicted and sentenced to death for a nearly identical crime at around the same time — based on nearly identical forensic analysis — but was exonerated because the forensic evidence was so flawed. The Pecos County prosecutor who requested Willis’ exoneration determined that the arson analysis was wrong because it relied on outdated and inaccurate forensic techniques. Willis was determined to be “actually innocent” and was compensated by the state of Texas.
The filing also noted that thousands of Texans are convicted of arson, and that the commission’s investigation could help determine whether accurate, reliable forensic analysis is being used statewide. The Forensic Science Commission voted unanimously to move forward with an investigation comparing the Willis and Willingham cases and, by extension, determining whether there may be broader problems with other arson convictions.
This is the kind of work the Legislature had in mind when it created the commission. The legislation creating the commission passed in 2005, in the midst of the Houston Police Department crime lab scandal. Many legislators cited problems in the lab when debating whether to create the commission, and they also made it clear that we needed an independent commission to investigate other forensic issues that may come up.
And that’s why it’s so important that the Commission be able to do its work in an independent fashion, without any meddling from Governor Perry. On that score, and on the matter of innocence, here’s Rod Dreher of the Dallas Morning News.
Perry is plainly afraid that his own investigators will discover that the state likely put a blameless man to death. But what is he afraid of? Political fallout? What is mere politics when the credibility of a system that might have killed an innocent man – and might yet kill other innocents – is at issue? Our skittish governor has taken to calling Willingham a “monster.” Even if he was, we put men to death for their deeds, not their dispositions. He needed killin’ is no rationale for execution.
A real leader – a brave and honorable one – would want to know the truth, so that if evidence requires it, he and others responsible for Willingham’s death could make restitution and repent for shedding the blood of a blameless man railroaded to his execution. If hard-hearted Perry is so certain of Willingham’s guilt, why object to an investigation?
More importantly, if Willingham was wrongly put to death, all decent capital punishment supporters should want strict measures taken to ensure that this catastrophe never happens again. If we are going to have the death penalty, we have the solemn duty to use it responsibly. Right? Surely we Texans aren’t the kind of people so enamored of retribution that the actual guilt or innocence of those executed in our names is of no real concern.
I’ve often wondered why more conservatives aren’t skeptical of the death penalty. I mean, talk about a vast exercise of government power. Anyway, check ’em both out.