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Behind Closed Doors

Should the Texas Forensic Science Commission meet in private? The new chairman, John Bradley, says there's a good argument for it.

Texas Forensic Science Commission Chairman John Bradley suggested this week that his panel should meet in private, but it's not a philosphy that's likely to satisfy the commission's many detractors.

Bradley, the Wiliamson County D.A., said that during an ongoing investigation, the commission should be allowed to meet behind closed doors to discuss the matter being investigated and that reports to the commission on an investigation should be withheld from public release until the commission concludes its deliberations.

“It’s not a good idea to conduct an investigation in a public forum,” Bradley says.

The commission is charged with investigating negligence or misconduct in cases where DNA evidence is used, and was pushed into the spotlight after the panel's previous chairman was removed just days before it was reviewing forensic negligence in the case of Cameron Todd Willingham, a Corsicana man convicted and executed for the arson deaths of his daughters.

When investigations are conducted in public, it is difficult to protect them from outside influences, Bradley said. He pointed out other agencies that have an investigative function, like those in law enforcement, are protected from the Texas Open Meetings Act and the Public Information Act.

The panel's former chairman, Sam Bassett, said the public shouldn't be shielded from the commission's deliberations.

"It is not a law enforcement agency, it is not a court, it is a policy commission," he said. "I think it's important that the public have confidence in forensic science in Texas that the meetings be in public."

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