Sunday, July 25, 2010

Texas Commission: No Negligence or Misconduct in Willingham Trial

Texas Forensic Science Commission members said they believed there was insufficient evidence to establish whether investigators were negligent or guilty of misconduct in their 1991 investigation of the fire that killed Cameron Todd Willingham's three daughters.

At the time, investigators with the State Fire Marshal's Office had ruled that the blaze was an arson started by an accelerant. Willingham, 36, was later convicted of murder for setting the blaze and executed.

According to the Houston Chronicle, Commissioners authorized the four-member committee to write a draft report reflecting their findings to be acted on later this summer. The panel, headed by commission Chairman John Bradley, also will solicit more information regarding the state of investigation standards in 1991. A final report is expected out in October.

The Dallas Morning News reported that last year a report was prepared for the commission, wherein Craig Beyler, a fire expert, said the original investigation was so seriously flawed that the finding of arson couldn't be supported. He said the investigation didn't adhere to fire investigation standards in place at the time or to current standards.

The controversy increased in September when Governor Rick Perry replaced three members of the forensic commission, including its chairman, two days before it was to review Beyler's report.

Perry named Bradley a conservative ally and county district attorney to lead the commission, raising concerns that the inquiry would be politically influenced.
The case has gained national attention. If Willingham is proven to be innocent of the arson and murder, he will be the first innocent person executed in America during the modern era of the death penalty dating back to 1976.

Willingham's family and the Innocence Project, a legal group that specializes in overturning wrongful convictions, have been highly critical of delays in the commission's investigation, according to the Morning News.

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