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Forensic Science Commission to finally get back to Willingham case

It’s sure taken them long enough.

After months of delay and internal upheaval, the revamped Texas Forensic Science Commission is poised to reopen discussion of the Cameron Todd Willingham case when it meets April 23 in Irving.

Tarrant County Medical Examiner Nizam Peerwani, appointed to the panel in December, is likely to play a central role in the inquiry to determine whether a flawed arson investigation led to Willingham’s execution in 2004.

The commission also includes two other members from Fort Worth: defense attorney Lance Evans and Jay Arthur Eisenberg, a professor and chairman of the department of forensic and investigative genetics at the University of North Texas Health Science Center at Fort Worth.

The meeting will mark the first time that the commission has revisited the Willingham case since a membership shake-up halted the inquiry more than six months ago.

“I think the commission is looking forward to being able to get down to work,” said Evans, who was appointed in October.

[…]

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.

[…]

One crucial element from the original inquiry was a report that was prepared for the commission by Baltimore fire expert Craig Beyler, who concluded that the arson investigation that led to Willingham’s conviction was based on outmoded techniques and could not sustain a finding of arson.

The commission agreed to look into the case after receiving a complaint from The Innocence Project, a New York-based advocacy group, in December 2006.

Beyler, whom the commission hired December 2008, submitted his report in August 2009 and was scheduled to appear at a commission hearing that was abruptly canceled after the membership shake-up in September. Beyler told the Star-Telegram late last week that he has not been invited to the upcoming meeting.

If you’re thinking that this sounds suspiciously like John Bradley continuing to do what he can to delay and obfuscate matters relating to the Willingham inquiry, you’re not alone. Grits sees it that way, and he thinks the Commission should call for a motion to reconsider a vote it took to create a special screening committee that includes Bradley as a member at their January meeting on the grounds that it was made under false premises. That ought to liven things up.

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