Monday, January 26, 2009

Did Texas execute an innocent man over junk arson science?

The Texas Forensic Science Commission has hired a world-reknowned expert out of Maryland to decide.

9 comments:

Anonymous said...

Texas has probably executed several innocent men. This is just the first one where they proved it.

Anonymous said...

In the eyes of Texas Justice, 'justice' is what the governmental powers want to call it. I would be surprised if more and more people are not further exonerated as these cases become uncovered by those that really want to know the truth behind such matters.

What does that say about us as a population?

amani said...

The "junk science" term has got to go.

Science is only the current best explanation we have for a given set of evidence.

As we gather more information or more evidence, the explanation may change.

Branding the old explanation as "junk" is dishonest and unfair.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

amani, that's all fine and dandy, but what good does your explanation do for people falsely convicted based on scientists' opinions who, it turns out we now know, didn't really have a clue what they were talking about?

You think the term "junk science" is unfair? Being falsely incarcerated for a crime you didn't commit is unfair!! Which do you think is the greater injustice?

In old arson cases, the term is especially appropriate because historically none of the arson investigators were scientists, but instead cops or firemen. There were no scientific based standards for defining arson until the mid to late '90s, and when it arrived it debunked all the folklore and wives tales that dominated the "profession" until then.

123txpublicdefender123 said...

I agree with you, Scott, that the term "junk science" is absolutely appropriate for arson investigation back when Willingham and many others were wrongfully convicted. As you said, it never was science. It was never subjected to the scientific method, but rather was a series of hunches and conclusions fireman came to. Once science actually entered the field, it became clear how incorrect the hunches and conclusions were; but, they never were true science in the slightest sense. And yet, they were presented to juries as if they were solid scientific fact.

Rage Judicata said...

Under the Rules of Evidence, scientific method isn't required for the admission of expert testimony of any type. "Knowledge, training, and experience" will get you there, and there are very few judges willing to strike an expert fireman/cop, etc. who gets on the stand and says "based on my 40 years of experience in the (X) industry, I've come to (Y) conclusion..."

Anonymous said...

Rage is correct. Perhaps some enterprising Defense attorney should have found an expert at some point??

Gritsforbreakfast said...

"Perhaps some enterprising Defense attorney should have found an expert at some point??"

That's kind of the point - all the "experts" on arson before the mid to late 90s were hyping bogus, non-scientific "junk science" as expertise. The "state of the art" arson investigations before then relied on hoakum and untested assumptions that courts routinely allowed as "expert" testimony. However, when the folklore version of arson expertise was later disproven by ACTUAL science, Texas courts refused to go back and apply it in Willingham's case.

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