Forensic Science Chairmen Face Off

John Bradley, the Williamson County District Attorney and the newly-appointed chairman of the Texas Forensic Science Commission, spent his morning answering a steady stream of questions from Texas lawmakers. At issue, if and when his panel will re-open the investigation into whether faulty science led to the arson conviction of Cameron Todd Willingham, who was executed by the state in 2004.

He's usually the one asking the questions. But John Bradley, the Williamson County District Attorney and the newly-appointed chairman of the Texas Forensic Science Commission, spent his morning answering a steady stream of queries from Texas lawmakers.

At issue, how to reform the previously obscure panel and when it will re-open the investigation into whether faulty science led to the arson conviction of Cameron Todd Willingham, a Corsicana man who was executed by the state in 2004.

"Will we proceed with the Willingham case? I think I've made it very clear in my statements that we will," Bradley said. But he stopped short of setting a timetable for when the high-profile case will get a review by his new panel.

Bradley told the Texas Senate Criminal Justice Committee that the forensic science panel currently lacks a set of uniform rules and procedures, and that he doesn't want to move forward with any specific investigation without adopting them.

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His predecessor disagrees.

"You could go forward with the investigation while concurrently adopting some of the rules and procedures that he says need to happen," said the panel's former chairman, Austin attorney Sam Bassett, who sat in on Tuesday's hearing.

Bradley took charge in late September, just days before Bassett was to hold a hearing to review a report that criticized the arson investigation that led to Willingham's conviction. Bassett was stopped short by Governor Rick Perry, who appoints the commissioners and replaced three members, citing expired terms.

"We will work on [the Willingham case] diligently and we will give your our opinion when it's ready," said Bradley, who refused to speak about the Willingham case specifically when pressed by reporters.

Bassett sat in on Bradley's testimony Tuesday and said afterward he wants to see the new chairman act more quickly.

"It's important to me because we have people in prison for arson," said Bassett. "And we have ongoing arson prosecutions. So I think it's a matter of urgency."

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Bradley says the full panel will meet in January to begin the process of writing and adopting rules. One of the lawmakers responsible for creating the forensic commission, state Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, said he hopes the attention brought to the panel will renew focus on sound science in Texas criminal investigations.

"Good forensics, credible forensics, are critical to our criminal justice system," Whitmire said.

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