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Texas Forensic Science Commission Set to Discuss Willingham Case and Arson Convictions Statewide

[Print Version]

Willingham Family Members Will be in Attendance with Innocence Project Co-Director Barry Scheck and Policy Director Stephen Saloom

On Friday, July 23, at 9:30 a.m., the Texas Forensic Science Commission will convene to consider recommendations from the secret deliberations of the Investigation Panel examining the cases of Cameron Todd Willingham and Ernest Willis, among other items. 

Willingham was executed in 2004 for allegedly setting a fire that killed his children. Before and after his execution, leading experts found that there was no scientific basis for deeming the fire an act of arson. Willis was convicted of arson based on the same kind of forensic analysis, but he was fully exonerated. The cases raise important questions about the integrity of forensic analysis in arson investigations statewide.

The Willingham/Willis investigation had already been approved and begun by the Commission when Governor Perry suddenly replaced Chairman Sam Bassett with a new Chairman, District Attorney John Bradley.  Bradley’s first move was to immediately cancel the Commission’s meeting planned for days later, where the Commission was to take testimony from their arson expert (who had already issued his findings) and consider what other investigative needs should be pursued.  

After over six months of delay on that investigation, at the last Commission meeting the Chairman orchestrated for a four-person Investigation Panel to review the case behind closed doors, and in possible criminal violation of the Texas Open Meetings Act.

The Texas Forensic Science Commission was created by the Texas Legislature in 2005 for the purpose of investigating all allegations of negligence or misconduct that would significantly affect the results of forensic analysis. 

The Innocence Project formally asked the commission to investigate the Willingham and Willis cases in 2006. That request specifically asked the commission to determine whether there was professional negligence or misconduct affecting the integrity of forensic results by virtue of the Texas Fire Marshal’s office failure to notify prosecutors and the courts that arson investigators’ past findings of arson (based on investigative methods other than National Fire Protection Agency Directive 921) were scientifically unreliable and, importantly, to determine whether other arson convictions in Texas may merit review because of the use of those unreliable forensic analyses.

For full background on the Willingham case, visit our Willingham Resource Center.

View the full meeting agenda for July 23. (PDF)

View the full meeting agenda from October 2, 2009. (PDF)

Additional documents on the jurisdiction of the TFSC are below:

Memorandum on the Jurisdiction of the Forensic Science Commission - June 14, 2010

Response to June 14 TFSC Memorandum by Former Chairman Samuel E. Bassett - July 19, 2010

Response to June 14 TFSC Memorandum by Stephen Saloom, Innocence Project Policy Director - July 20, 2010

Letter to TFSC commissioners from Innocence Project Policy Director Stephen Saloom - July 20, 2010

Memorandum summarizing Texas Open Meetings Act research with regards to the TFSC from Weil, Gotshal & Manges LLP - July 20, 2010

Response to June 14 TFSC Memorandum from Texas Senator Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa - July 22, 2010

Reponse to June 14 TFSC Memorandum from Texas State Represenatatiives Leo Burnam, Eddie Rodridguez, Stephen Frost and Barbara Mallory Caraway - July 22, 2010

For the August 13, 2008 letter to the Commission from Innocence Project’s Co-Director Barry Scheck and Policy Director Stephen Saloom, click here. (PDF)

Media Contact: Contact: Alana Salzberg; ASalzberg@innocenceproject.org; 212.364.5983