Sunday, September 12, 2010

Forensic Science Commission Meeting Sept 17 to Discuss Todd Willingham Case

Eugenia Willingham, TMN's Scott Cobb, and Patricia Cox
The Texas Forensic Science Commission is having a meeting in Dallas on Sept 17 that may be the final meeting in which they discuss and vote on a final report regarding the Todd Willingham case. The meeting is at the Embassy Suites Hotel Dallas Love Field3880 West Northwest Highway, Dallas, Texas, United States 75220 (Map and directions). The meeting starts at 9:30 AM, but is expected to last till late afternoon. The public comment period will be at the end of the meeting. Anyone can make public comments to the Commission.

Members of Texas Moratorium Network plan to attend the meeting. If you can be in Dallas on Sept 17, please plan to join us at the meeting. We have created a Facebook event page here.

You can see video of the last TFSC meeting on the TMN blog.

From the Corsicana Sun:
 A special meeting of the Texas Forensics Science Commission will take place at 9:30 a.m. Sept. 17 at the Embassy Suites Hotel in Dallas near Love Field specifically to address the case of Cameron Todd Willingham, according to director Leigh Tomlin.

Last week, the city issued its final response to the case of the Corsicana man convicted of killing his three daughters in a house fire in December 1991. Willingham was tried in 1992 and died by lethal injection in 2004.

In 2005, the state created a forensics commission to oversee the professionalism of law-enforcement crime laboratories. At the request of the Innocence Project, the commission agreed to look at the Willingham case.

John Bradley, who heads up the commission, said the hope is to finish up the topic at the September meeting.

“We’re going to meet to discuss and deal with the report for the Willingham case,” Bradley said. “Obviously, the goal is to see if we can complete it and vote on it.”

Different opinions have come out about the case, primarily based on Willingham’s protestations of innocence while he was on death row. Over the years, he floated dozens of explanations for the fire, including that a stranger came into the house and set it on fire, that the two-year-old set the fire, that it was caused by a gas space heater, that squirrels in the attic chewed through the wiring and that a ceiling fan caused the fire, among others. All his explanations seemed to cast doubt on the investigators at the time and their professionalism.

The City of Corsicana had two investigators on the case, one from the fire department and one from the police department, and the Texas Fire Marshall’s office also had an independent investigator come down and look at the crime scene and issue an opinion. Their investigations eliminated other causes and Willingham was charged with setting the fire to intentionally kill the children. He was found guilty by a jury and sentenced to death.

After the state commission undertook its examination, the commission hired an independent consultant named Stephen Beyler to examine the records and issue an opinion. Beyler wrote that the fire investigators didn’t use good fire science and he speculated that it could have been other causes, based partly on Willingham’s explanations.

Last month, the forensics commission said the city did not err in the investigation according to scientific methods at the time.

In the city’s final response to the commission City Attorney Terry Jacobson said the issue is being used as a forum to advance political agendas. The Willingham case has been held up by anti-death penalty advocates as an example of misuse of the death penalty in Texas.

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