John Bradley, the District Attorney for Williamson County and the hand-picked-by-Rick-Perry Chair of the Forensic Science Commission, continues to be the single biggest impediment to the Commission doing the job it was specifically created to do.
In an op-ed on these pages last November, Bradley denied charges that his actions were politically motivated and decried those “[who] have made exaggerated claims and drawn premature conclusions about the case.” He then assured Texans that the commission’s investigation “will be completed” using a “disciplined, scientific approach.” Instead, what we have seen so far is not a review of scientific issues but a bureaucratic effort to undermine, if not end, the Willingham inquiry by rewriting the commission’s rules and its jurisdiction.
Last week, after closed meetings that may violate the Texas Open Meetings Act, Bradley sent out an unsigned legal memo instructing commissioners that they have a “relatively narrow investigative jurisdiction.”
Employing “Catch-22” logic, he claimed that commissioners lack the “discretion or power” to investigate evidence that was not from a laboratory accredited by the Department of Public Safety (DPS) — which, as it happens, did not accredit labs before 2003, years after the Willingham fire. By this reasoning, the TFSC cannot review any pre-2003 matter, such as the Houston Police Department crime lab evidence, the scandal that gave rise to its formation.
In 2008, the TFSC carefully considered the jurisdiction question, and, with assent from the Attorney General’s office, determined that the Willingham and other old cases like it are well within its authority.
And rightly so: The Willingham inquiry into the use of unreliable arson analysis is an urgent matter for more than 600 people incarcerated in Texas whose arson convictions may have been based on invalid science. If its investigation is derailed, the commissioners would be turning their backs on these potentially innocent Texans.
Remember when the Forensic Science Commission was about making forensics better in Texas and not about covering Rick Perry’s ass? Those were the days. Grits and the Trib have more. A brief statement from State Sen. Rodney Ellis is beneath the fold; the full version of the statement is here.
UPDATE: Rick Casey piles on.
“The Texas Forensic Science Commission was created to ensure the accuracy and integrity of forensic science in Texas. Texans need the Commission to perform its work in a timely manner so the public can once again have confidence in the forensic evidence used in our courtrooms and considered by juries every day.
The FSC needs to investigate the Willis and Willingham cases because they involved flawed arson science that may have been used in thousands of arson convictions since Todd Willingham was convicted in 1992. There are 732 arson offenders in the Texas prison system today, and on average, 275 are convicted of arson every year. The work of the Commission can ensure that faulty science hasn’t resulted in many wrongful arson convictions in the past, and can prevent more wrongful convictions in the future.
We hope the Texas Forensic Science Commission will stop playing politics with the Texas justice system and get to the important work it was charged to do – ensuring we have reliable evidence in our courtrooms, and a fair and accurate justice system the people of Texas can have faith protects the innocent and convicts the guilty.”
– Senator Rodney Ellis