Friday, July 23, 2010

Whitewash Coming?

The Texas Forensic Science Commission met today. 
Despite John Bradley's view that the Commission doesn't have jurisdiction to review the arson investigation that led to Cameron Todd Willingham's execution, they apparently took it up.  Juan A. Lozano, writing in the Houston Chronicle for the AP, reports what happened.
In a report prepared last year for the commission, fire expert Craig Beyler said the original investigation was so seriously flawed that the finding of arson can't be supported. He said the investigation didn't adhere to the fire investigation standards in place at the time, or to current standards.
The commission then appointed a four-person panel to review Willingham's case. John Bradley, who is chairman of both the panel and the commission, said the panel's review concluded arson experts in the case did not commit misconduct or negligence.
Bradley and panel member Sarah Kerrigan, a forensic toxicologist and director of a crime lab at Sam Houston State University, acknowledged the science the fire investigators used in the Willingham case was flawed. But they said that didn't translate into professional negligence, because investigators were relying on the techniques and information available at the time.
New fire investigation standards were not adopted until 1992, the same year Willingham was convicted, but it was several years after that before they were adopted nationally, said Bradley, who is also the Williamson County district attorney.
The panel will prepare its final report and present it for a vote at a meeting sometime before mid-October.
So there it is. "Flawed" science used by the investigators, but they weren't negligent and didn't commit misconduct.
Excuse me, but who cares about that?  I mean, sure, we don't want negligent or dishonest investigations.  But this isn't about placing blame.  It's about figuring out what went wrong and how to do better.
New science standards were adopted by the time of the trial.  And that was years before Willingham was killed.  Governor Perry had been told that the investigators' conclusions were bullshit before he determined that Willingham should be killed.   Want to talk about what went wrong?  Start with that stuff.  If the science was bad, fix it, don't rely on it.  And don't excuse the execution of a man against whom there's no serious evidence of guilt merely because you can pretend that the investigators weren't negligent or malicious.  
Oh, hey, and here's a thought.  What about if maybe they were just incompetent?
If the investigators used "flawed" science, then the point isn't to decide if they were negligent.  It's to find ways to make sure that all investigation is done with the best science possible.  And when there's better science, to employ it.
If inaccurate work by arson investigators lead to the murder of an innocent man, then the job is to own up to it.  And make sure it doesn't happen again.
Anything else is a whitewash.

1 comment:

  1. It appears to me that the commission is preparing their review as if Willingham were still alive. If he were, then the issue of negligence or misconduct would possibly have legal relevance (I think) because maybe he could get a new trial or at least a hearing or something.

    But, I'm pretty sure Willingham isn't going to be asking for a hearing.

    In this case, there is no issue of whether or not someone they "believe" to be guilty might go free.

    It seems to me as if they know this, and they know the science is bad, but that looks bad for them, so rather than address the real issues - because that would mean reviewing hundreds of cases of people who are imprisoned, some of whom are probably innocent, based on "non-negligent, non-misconduct" completely bunk science - they are attempting to portray it as if the issue were about negligence and misconduct.

    I agree with you about the governor - no one has formally addressed whether or not he was negligent or engaged in misconduct by letting Willingham die. He probably has some kind of gubernatorial amnesty anyway...

    But Willingham is free from them now. Rest in peace, Cameron Todd Willingham.

    I share your rage, Mr. Gamso.