claimed in a letter to the public written shortly after his appointment last October that "most state agencies with investigative and deliberative functions are protected by laws designed to keep such information confidential until a final decision is released. Unfortunately, the law creating the Commission does not include the protections." There is no presumption of confidentiality for the commission's work; the opposite is true. Bradley's commission does not determine guilt or innocence. The commission currently has no authority to make recommendations, to set ongoing "best practices," or to operate in secret. The members, appointed by the governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general, are required to launch "timely" investigations of any allegation of professional negligence or misconduct by labs, facilities or entities conducting forensic analysis, such as DNA testing, that would substantially affect the integrity of the results. The law also requires that all investigative reports be available to the public.
Texas should resist all efforts by the presiding officer of the Forensic Science Commission to expand his power. Such a move would be out of step with the state's orderly march into 21st century criminal law and science. ...
As for the Forensic Science Commission, it appears the chairman's goal is to slow investigations until after the 2010 elections. The Texas legislature and the attorney general from whom Bradley has sought advice would be ill advised to give him additional authority. The new mission and the secrecy he seeks would enhance his current delaying tactics in the Willingham case.
That aside, we have strong evidence of Bradley's attitude toward 21st century forensic science. For the last five years, as Williamson County DA, Bradley doggedly opposed DNA testing requested by pro bono counsel John Raley, who is representing convicted murderer Michael Morton. Raley sought a form of DNA testing, which was not possible at the time of the 1987 conviction, to be conducted on a bloody bandana found along Morton's alleged escape route after the slaying of Morton's wife.
A Texas state appeals court has granted the motion to test the bloody bandana and overruled Bradley's motion for rehearing. The court recognized the circumstantial nature of the evidence against Morton, that there was testimony as to both guilt and innocence, and that the bandana might yield evidence of the victim's and another person's DNA, supporting Morton's theory that the true assailant escaped over his backyard fence and down a wooded path. In his zeal to prevent DNA testing in the Morton case, Bradley may be inadvertently protecting the guilty as he seeks to uphold the conviction.
At the Forensic Science Commission, Bradley should be limited to carrying out the commission's charge to investigate past wrongdoings and errors, not make broader findings. The legislature's goals, as well as Bradley's apparent personal biases against DNA evidence and opposition to revisiting old facts with proven science, call for careful scrutiny of his commission's work, and the need to keep it transparent.
Sunday, May 09, 2010
Radnofsky: Forensic commission should resist expanding chairman's power
Democratic Texas Attorney General candidate Barabara Ann Radnofsky has a column on "Secrecy and Science" at Politics Daily focusing on the Texas Forensic Science Commission and the Todd Willingham case. She points out that Williamson County DA and Commission Chair John Bradley: