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Williamson County DA Eyes New Prosecuting Job

Outgoing Williamson County District Attorney John Bradley is being considered to head up the state office that prosecutes crimes in state prisons and juvenile detention facilities.

John Bradley, Williamson County District Attorney in Georgetown, TX Friday November 11, 2011. Bradley is responsible for prosecuting felony criminal offenses that are committed in Williamson County.

Outgoing Williamson County District Attorney John Bradley is being considered to lead the state's Special Prosecution Unit, which prosecutes crimes committed in state prisons and juvenile detention facilities and is in charge of civil commitments of sexual predators.

Gina DeBottis, the current executive director of the unit, announced plans this year to step down from the position after the 2013 legislative session. Bradley, who lost his his primary re-election campaign in May, is one of three candidates who have been interviewed to replace her, she said.

Bradley, who has earned a reputation as a hard-nosed prosecutor since he was appointed to that position by Gov. Rick Perry in December 2001, declined to comment.

"I don’t have any comments on what my current or future plans are," Bradley said Friday.

Bradley lost his election after a bruising campaign against Williamson County attorney Jana Duty. She attacked Bradley relentlessly over his role in the Michael Morton case. Morton spent nearly 25 years in prison for his wife's murder and was cleared of the crime last year after DNA testing. Bradley did not prosecute Morton, but he fought efforts to get DNA tested for more than six years.

Bradley said he regretted his decision to fight the DNA testing, and that he had been humbled by the Morton case.

Bradley's term as district attorney will end in December, and the executive for the Special Prosecution Unit could make a hiring decision at its next meeting, in December. The board is composed of prosecutors in counties that are home to Texas Department of Criminal Justice and Texas Juvenile Justice Department facilities.

Navarro County District Attorney Lowell Thompson is on the hiring committee that interviewed Bradley and two other candidates, who are prosecutors in the Special Prosecution Unit.

"He applied for the job," Thompson said. "It wasn’t like he was recruited."

Thompson said Bradley would not receive special consideration by the board because he is a district attorney and that many of the board members know him. He said the other two candidates are also familiar to board members.

Thompson and Bradley share more in common than their roles as elected district attorneys. Both have been involved in the controversial case of Cameron Todd Willingham, who was executed in 2004 for an arson fire in his Corsicana home that killed his three young daughters.

Bradley was chairman of the Texas Forensic Science Commission when that body was investigating the science used to convict Willingham of arson. Several scientists who reviewed the science after the conviction concluded that the fire was not intentionally set. Bradley, appointed by Perry to lead the commission, was loudly criticized by innocence advocates who said he was working to stymie the investigation. Last year, the Texas Senate declined to confirm Bradley's appointment to the commission.

Thompson, as the district attorney in Navarro County, inherited the Willingham case long after the prosecution. He became involved in 2010 when Judge Charlie Baird convened a court of inquiry to investigate whether the Corsicana father was wrongfully convicted. Thompson requested that Baird recuse himself, arguing that the judge's previous ruling on the Willingham case and his reputation as a death penalty opponent called into question his impartiality. Baird voted in 1995, when he was on the Court of Criminal Appeals, to reaffirm Willingham's death sentence. Eventually, an appeals court sided with Thompson, and the court of inquiry ended.

Thompson said Bradley's involvement in the Willingham controversy had no effect on his decision about whether Bradley would be the right candidate to lead the unit.

The main factors the board is considering, he said, are experience and qualifications. And he said the state law that created the unit has set high standards for the executive director's position.

"It's not just anybody that could get it," Thompson said. "I don’t even know if I’d get an interview."

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