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Texas Commission Set To Discuss Arson Cases Friday

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Posted: April 22, 2010   3:00 PM

Tomorrow from 9:30 a.m. to 3 p.m., the Texas Forensic Science Commission will convene to discuss forensic developments and the investigations into the cases of Cameron Todd Willingham and Ernest Willis, among other items.  The Innocence Project will broadcast the entire meeting live online here.

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. In another Texas case, 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 case was not discussed when the commission met in January, but it is on the agenda for Friday’s meeting.

The Texas Forensic Science Commission was created by the Texas Legislature in 2005 for the purpose of investigating 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 negligence or misconduct in the forensic analysis that initially deemed the fire arson and – importantly – to determine whether other arson convictions in Texas may have been based on the same kind of unreliable forensic analysis.

In 2008, the Texas Forensic Science Commission agreed to investigate the case. The commission hired renowned arson expert Craig Beyler to review all of the evidence in the case. In August 2009, Beyler submitted his report to the commission, finding that the forensic analysis used to convict Willingham was wrong – and that experts who testified at Willingham’s trial should have known it was wrong at the time.

For full background on the Willingham case, see the Innocence Project’s Resource Center here.

For the full meeting agenda, click here.

You can view live video from the meeting on the Innocence Project’s website here.
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