There has been a great deal of media coverage of the Texas Forensic Science Commission’s meeting last Friday, July 23, 2010, during which a subcommittee said that arson investigators in the case of Cameron Todd Willingham “used flawed science but were not negligent” in an investigation that led to his controversial 2004 execution. According to CNN, “the panel declared that investigators were using the science available to them at the time, even though it was flawed. The board said it would present its final report for a vote at a meeting in October.” (CNN, “Texas state board says arson investigators used flawed science,” July 23, 2010).
According to the Dallas Morning News, “Texas Forensic Science Commission members said they believed there was insufficient evidence to establish whether investigators botched their 1991 investigation of the fire that killed Cameron Todd Willingham’s three daughters.” This determination starkly contradicts nine fire experts who have examined the case since the original conviction and found that the evidence did not support the finding of arson.
State Senator Rodney Ellis (Houston) issued the following statement in response to the proceedings:
“I am happy to hear that the Forensic Science Commission is moving
forward on the Todd Willingham investigation, but unfortunately the
Commission is off track in terms of what it should be investigating.
It was painfully apparent that many FSC members believe that flawed
science was used in the Willingham conviction, but the FSC does not
seem interested in looking at the bigger picture: When did the State
Fire Marshal start using modern arson science and did the State Fire
Marshal commit professional negligence or misconduct when it failed to
inform the courts, prosecutors, the Board of Pardons and Parole, and
the Governor that flawed arson science had been used to convict
hundreds of defendants?…”
Here’s a sample of some of the editorials and columns that have appeared:
Dallas Morning News – “Official ‘oops’ in the Willingham case?”, July 26, 2010
Houston Chronicle – “Forensic panel must resist chair’s efforts at sabotage” by Barry Scheck and Patricia Willingham Cox, July 20, 2010
Austin American-Statesman – “Science – like death – has its limits“, July 27, 2010
Houston Chronicle, “Questions of Innocence,” July 28, 2010
Houston Chronicle, “Of science, witches and arson trials,” by Rick Casey, July 28, 2010