death penalty news—-TEXAS

Nov. 7


Texas forensic science agency's new chief calls for changes as arson
inquiry continues

The new chairman of the Texas Forensic Science Commission has called for
several key changes at the agency, including new confidentiality
requirements, to ensure that its future reviews of criminal cases are

John Bradley, the district attorney in Williamson County and chairman of
the commission, also promised that the panel will apply a "disciplined,
scientific approach" to its continuing inquiry into a flawed arson
investigation that led to the 2004 execution of Cameron Todd Willingham of

"Those with agendas separate from the advancement of forensic science have
made exaggerated claims and drawn premature conclusions about the case,"
Bradley said in a commentary sent to newspapers this week.

The prosecutor also pointed out that the commission was created in 2005
"to determine only whether there was negligence or misconduct by an
accredited laboratory" conducting forensic analyses of evidence in
specific cases.

"The commission does not decide whether persons are guilty or innocent of
criminal offenses," he said.

A spokeswoman for the commission said Bradley would not speak to a
reporter to elaborate, pending his planned testimony next week to a state
Senate committee.

Bradley said he will be seeking changes at the agency to improve its
operations, including new written policies and procedures, investigative
standards to guide its work and new requirements to keep information
confidential until a final decision is rendered.

Implementing such changes could take months, and it's unclear how that
would affect the commission's work in the Willingham case.

"Most state agencies with investigative and deliberate functions are
protected by laws designed to keep such information confidential until a
final decision is released," he said. "Unfortunately, the law creating the
commission does not include those protections."

Bradley said he would seek advice from the Attorney General's Office on
how the commission can have tighter control over its functions and protect
against "interference and improper outside influences."

That suggestion drew a cool reception Friday from the Freedom of
Information Foundation of Texas, which pointed out that the Legislature
had a choice whether to make the information public or private when it
passed the law setting up the agency.

"We prefer to think they wanted the public's business to be conducted in
public," said Keith Elkins, executive director of the foundation.

"If Mr. Bradley wants to have the public's business conducted in secret,
the appropriate thing would be to go to the Legislature to ask for a
change rather than going around the legislative process and trying to get
it changed by the attorney general," he said.

Bradley also said he will seek additional resources from the Legislature
in the next session "so the commission can grow into a mature,
well-respected entity." He noted that the agency now has one employee to
handle its administrative, legal and public contract work.

Last year, the commission hired a well-respected arson expert to review
the Willingham case. He concluded that no investigator could have
determined with available evidence that Willingham started the 1991 fire
that killed his 3 children.

On Sept. 30, 2 days before the expert was to appear before the panel and
present his report, Gov. Rick Perry replaced 4 of the 9 commission
members, including the chairman. Perry, who approved the execution, had
questioned the direction taken by the commission in investigating the

(source: Dallas Morning News)