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TribBlog: More Time for Willingham

Forensic Science Commission says consideration of Willingham case "still in its infancy."

John Bradley, left, is the new chair of the Texas Forensic Science Commission. Cameron Todd Willingham, right, was executed for setting a house fire that killed his three daughters.

Today the Texas Forensic Science Commission took up its much delayed consideration of the Cameron Todd Willingham case in front of a packed boardroom at the Irving Omni Mandalay Hotel, only to announce that it was "very far from making any conclusions.” Chairman John Bradley offered no timeline for when the state agency would decide the complaint of the Corsicana man who was sentenced to death in 1992 for the arson deaths of his three daughters.

Sarah Kerrigan, a member of a now four-person panel tasked with investigating the Willingham complaint said the case was "very much in its infancy." "Other than hiring someone to help we haven’t made any other progress, besides identifying that it was worthy of an investigation and hiring a consultant to help us. We’ve only just begun to assemble the pieces we need," Kerrigan said, adding, "The panel has a lot to do in the coming months."  

Members of the commission said they needed time to read the whole transcript of Willingham's trial and consult with additional experts.

Kerrigan was referring to a report prepared last summer for the commission by Craig Beyler, a nationally recognized arson expert, which detailed "more than a dozen instances of improper analysis and mistaken conclusions" issued by the prosecutor's expert witnesses to make their case against Willingham.

Earlier today, in response to a concern that it should contain another member with a legal background, the commission voted to add Lance Evans, a Fort Worth criminal defense attorney, to the three-person subcommittee charged with considering the Willingham complaint. “Obviously everyone is aware of the public perception of what is going on regarding this investigation,” said Evans.

Kerrigan is the only panel member who was on the commission when it originally decided to investigate the Willingham complaint in 2007. Since the panel does not form a quorum, it is not subject to the Open Meetings Act — which means it can deliberate in secret.

Willingham, executed in 2004, was the subject of a 16,000 word New Yorker story in September that drew national scrutiny to the state for methods it used to convict him. The commission later came under fire when Gov. Rick Perry replaced three commissioners, including then-chairman Sam Bassett shortly before it was scheduled to investigate Willingham's case.

Bradley, who also serves as the Williamson County district attorney, filled Bassett's position as chairman. In March, he received a public rebuke from members of the legislature for failing to appear at a House interim committee hearing on his agency.

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