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Texas Forensic Science Developments

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For a very long time, the anti-death-penalty crowd has been desperately seeking proof of an innocent person who has been executed. For many years, Roger Coleman of Virginia was their poster boy, despite the fact that the limited DNA testing available before his execution confirmed his guilt to substantial degree. He even made the cover of Time Magazine. When the definitive test was done with improved technology years later, it proved his guilt beyond doubt, and the people who had proclaimed him certainly innocent were publicly shown to be the dishonest people they are.

Then they dug up Ellis Wayne Felker. The test in that case was inconclusive. The search continued.

The latest darling is Cameron Todd Willingham.  For background, see this article by Janet Jacobs from the local newspaper, the Corsicana Daily Sun.  This story includes this nugget:

From his seat at the defense table, attorney David Martin's job was to fight tooth and nail for Willingham. Once it was over, though, Martin became convinced his client was guilty. He dismisses the Beyler report as propaganda from anti-death penalty supporters.
"The Innocence Project is an absolute farce," Martin said. "It's a bunch of hype, in my opinion."
In these actual innocence claim cases, it is not unusual for the trial prosecutor to stand by his case, but I do not recall one where the original defense lawyer is also convinced his former client was indeed guilty as charged.

The New Yorker Magazine, unsurprisingly, has a different take in this article by David Grann.

The dispute turns on arson investigation, and the Texas Forensic Science Commission had scheduled a meeting on Friday to consider a report on the case. However, the terms of four of the members expired on September 1. Gov. Rick Perry has decided not to reappoint three of them. The new chairman has decided to postpone the meeting until the new members acquaint themselves with the issues. Janet Jacobs, once again, reports on the case for the local paper.

The Dallas Morning News is predictably outraged, with this story by Christy Hoppe. How many loaded words can you count in the story? The new appointee to the commission chair is "conservative" and "hard-core." The author of the report is "a nationally recognized fire expert." The predictable Barry Scheck is prominently quoted with a predictably incendiary comparison to President Nixon's "Saturday night massacre" firing of Archibald Cox. Not until half-way down the story does the reader who reads that far find out that the governor did not fire anyone but rather declined to reappoint people who terms had expired, a major difference.

Missing from the story is any mention of the concerns I have heard, albeit second-hand, that the hearing was a set-up and the commission was not going to give the Texas fire marshal's office a fair chance to respond.

The commission has nine members. Replacement of three is not going to produce a whitewash. A pause for the new members to get up to speed and to conduct a fair hearing may produce a report that people can have more confidence in.


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Given the post's unstated take, i.e., that we need to wait for the hearing's results on Willingham, the term "darling" seems a bit over the top. Of course, given the utter disingenuousness of the anti-side and their unacknowledged allies in the media, an assumption that, once again, wolf is being cried, is a fair one.

Personally, I think that there are issues with the Willingham case, but also that Willingham did it.

Scheck, a man who has done a lot of good on the innocence front, ought to be a little less incendiary. Ok, a lot less.

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