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Forensic Commissioners Answer to Legislators

The Senate Nominations Committee voted 4-2 today to recommend approval of the state forensic board Chairman John Bradley's appointment. Sens. José Rodríguez and Kirk Watson voted against Bradley's nomination.

Williamson County DA John Bradley during his Senate Nomination Committee to the Forensic Science Committee. February 28th, 2011

The Senate Nominations Committee voted 4-2 today to recommend approving state forensic board chairman John Bradley's appointment. Sens. José Rodríguez, D-El Paso, and Kirk Watson, D-Austin, voted against Bradley's nomination.

Gov. Rick Perry appointed Bradley to lead the Forensic Science Commision in 2009, right before arson expert Craig Beyler was scheduled to testify about the Cameron Todd Willingham investigation. Willingham was convicted of setting fire to his Corsicana home in 1991 and killing his three daughters. He was executed in 2004.

One of Bradley's first actions on the commission was to cancel Beyler's testimony, because he said he wanted to familiarize himself with the case. Critics, though, alleged the delay was a political ploy to shield Perry, in the middle of a re-election campaign, from potential controversy in the case. Bradley, the Williamson County district attorney, later called Wilingham "a guilty monster" in an Associated Press article in October 2010.

"The comment was attempting to set the record straight in terms of advocacy groups trying to portray that he was an innocent lamb," Bradley told the Senate committee. "If they were honest, they would say it is a forensic discussion about science, but that's a fairly boring discussion."

The committee questioned Bradley and Commissioner Lance Evans about the board's efficacy and accomplishments.

The Willingham case inched ahead last month when commissioners invited arson experts and representatives from the State Fire Marshal's Office to testify on the forensic evidence at the time of the incident. The board met two weeks later, and commission members expressed their frustration with the  pace of the Willingham investigation.

"There are times when I think, 'Gosh, I wish we could be acting faster,' especially on the Willingham decision," Evans said. "But then there are other times where I'm thinking, 'Let's be deliberate,' because we want to make the right decision."

Despite hearing the bit of progress, the commission has since referred the Willingham case to Attorney General Greg Abbott's office, who will then decide if the board has jurisdiction on the case.

"I have worked hard to put some meat on the bones as to what that jurisdiction is," Bradley said. "There are disagreements about that. The commission has struggled with it. That's nothing more than people trying to figure out what the rule of law is. If it causes some delay, if it causes some concern, that perhaps is the price for living in a world where due process is more important than getting someone else's outcome."

The committee unanimously voted to nominate Evans, Hidalgo County Medical Examiner Norma Farley and Tarrant County Medical Examiner Nizam Peerwani. All votes will be taken to the Senate floor.

Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, who sat in the testimony today, urged the Senate to reject the Bradley's reappointment. Commission members have not closed any investigations since Bradley was appointed, he said.

"Sadly, Mr. Bradley has used his position to seize power over and thwart the will of the expert Commission, hide the Commission’s work from public view, greatly increase the Commission’s bureaucratic bloat, slow its previously impressive progress to a crawl, and otherwise prevent the Commission from accomplishing the legislature’s intent," Ellis said in a statement.

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State government 82nd Legislative Session José R. Rodríguez Rodney Ellis State agencies Texas Legislature Texas Senate