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Bradley speaks

John Bradley, the hang-em-high Williamson County District Attorney who was appointed to chair the Texas Forensic Science Commission by Governor Perry in August, tries to reassure us that there will be no Perry-saving monkey business on the Commission. He has the opposite effect.

The commission wants to reassure you that the Cameron Todd Willingham case, involving a study of the application of the forensic science of arson, will be completed. However, pending the release of a final report by the commission, you should be skeptical of media reports, personal pronouncements and editorials on that case. Those with agendas separate from the advancement of forensic science have made exaggerated claims and drawn premature conclusions about the case. The commission can only ask that the public be patient and permit the commission to apply a disciplined, scientific approach to the investigation. That kind of hard work takes time and careful deliberation, and is not likely to result in a simplistic report.

You also need to know that the commission was created to determine only whether there was negligence or misconduct by an accredited laboratory conducting forensic analyses of certain kinds of evidence in specific cases. The commission does not decide whether persons are guilty or innocent of criminal offenses. The commission also is not a forum for the debate of social issues, such as the appropriateness of the death penalty. Such discussions are better suited for our court system and the legislative process.

In other words, lower your expectations and don’t hold your breath waiting for that Willingham report to come out, because we’ll be in no hurry. If you don’t read all that into what he says here, perhaps some more of Bradley’s words, taken from this Texas Lawyer article and summarized by Grits, will help you see it.

Bradley suggests:

  • Making investigations secret and meetings about them closed.
  • Re-education of commissioners: “Bradley says that when people act as investigators and judges, they typically should have some background in that work. Most members of the commission don’t do investigative work and need training, he says.”
  • Lengthening terms for commissioners. (No word why the governor couldn’t just reappoint if continuity is so important.)
  • Creating new rules and procedures for the commission (no detail).
  • “Clarifying” whether the commission has authority to investigate the Willingham case. (He seems unwilling to take his former boss Sen. John Whitmire’s word for it.)

Hardly anyone attends FSC meetings – at the last one in Houston not a single media member showed up, including this blogger – so the secrecy request can only be a reaction the Willingham uproar, which was raised to a national issue with Bradley’s abrupt appointment by Governor Perry to chair the FSC and his subsequent decision to cancel all commission activities. What’s more, Bradley thinks the public shouldn’t get to know what taxpayers bought for $30K from the expert hired to advise the commission – a proposition that seems like a really big stretch, to me, anyway.

All I can say is that I hope Sen. Whitmire, whose committee hearing to inquire with Bradley about the state of the Commission will be this coming Tuesday, November 10, reads this article as well and has a few questions about it. EoW has more.

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  1. Baby Snooks says:

    Again, Chuck Rosenthal’s “mini-me” although he does have a point about the commission not being set up to determine the guilt or innocence of anyone. Just the reliability of the evidence so to speak. In this case, not the only evidence. As for the science involved in arson invesgtigations, apparently it is not 100%. As, again, we saw in the Medina case. One says arson. Another says accidental. Apparently the only reliable evidence of arson is a reliable witness who saw someone start the fire, fingerprints on a gasoline can left behind, or a confession.

  2. […] of the Willingham case. I very much look forward to hearing what Bradley has to say even if I have little faith in his being a force for good. I hope he proves me wrong, but I’m not counting on it. Anyway, […]