The meeting is the first since July. In September, Perry dismissed three members of the commission, two days before it was to consider a report critical of the arson finding that led to the execution. Bradley canceled the subsequent meeting.
The Willingham case is not on the agenda for the upcoming meeting. Nor is Craig Beyler, the renowned fire expert who authored the report in question.
Bradley said he isn't ignoring Willingham, and that the board's investigation of the case could conclude this summer. He said he will assign pending cases, including Willingham, to the nine-member body, which includes a defense attorney and several medical examiners.
He said his top priority is bringing structure to the commission, which he said doesn't have policies in place that answer "simple questions, like 'What is the standard for accepting or rejecting a complaint?'"
But the shift in emphasis from Willingham to procedural matters confirms the fears of those supporting the Willingham inquiry. Barry Scheck, co-director of the Innocence Project, a New York group that focuses on overturning wrongful convictions, called it "an agenda that deflects attention from what everybody wants answered."
And Sam Bassett, the panel's deposed chairman, said it appears the group's new direction "is in my view unnecessarily delaying the investigations we had going." ...
Bradley said he chose Harlingen because a new commissioner lives there, because of interest from state Sen. Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa and to show diversity in the location of the meetings.
Scheck said the Innocence Project hopes to broadcast the meeting on the Internet.
"There is intense public interest," Scheck said. "We certainly are interested in seeing that the commission ... is not hijacked and its good work undone by a chairman trying to jettison and repudiate all their past work."
With this news about the FSC agenda, I think we've got an answer to a question that's been open since last fall, as I put it in this Grits post:
we don't need to listen to Mr. Bradley's words to know if this was a political ploy, we can observe his actions. If the commission quickly reschedules the Willingham hearing before the gubernatorial primary and the chair allows them to produce strong recommendations as a result, it will quickly, easily dispel criticisms that Mr. Bradley is just a political hack brought in to hide the truth instead of seek it. I'd be more than happy to publicly eat crow for my critiques of Bradley's appointment if that's how things pan out.
If on the other hand the Commission's Willingham inquiry is delayed past the March primary or shut down altogether, all the excuse making in the world won't convince me this wasn't, as Paul Burka called it, a straight-up "Cover Up."
So now we know. The inquiry into the validity of arson science in the Willingham case will be put on hold until after the March primary. Is anyone surprised?
What's more, given that the commission could hardly "conclude" its business on arson science by this summer if they won't even address it at this meeting, part of me suspects from Mr. Bradley's statements that he hopes to establish procedures at the Harlingen hearing then dismiss the case on procedural grounds instead of evaluating the merits. I'd also expect him to "assign" the case (by some procedure, one assumes, he hopes to create on Friday) to one of the Governor's new appointees who likely share his apparent goal of delaying or sidetracking the investigation. Perhaps that's too cynical. We'll soon see.
The article mentioned the NY Innocence Project hopes to broadcast the meeting online, which is a lot more attention than anybody has paid the the Forensic Science Commission in the past. One of the juicy ironies of this episode is that, by trying to cover up findings about invalid science used to secure the death penalty, the Governor and Mr. Bradley have unintentionally focused more attention on the subject and the agency investigating the problem than was ever the case in the past.