The bombshell here is the finding that the Willingham case was based on "flawed science." As for whether there was negligence or misconduct by investigators, Jeff Gamso gets it right: "Excuse me, but who cares about that? I mean, sure, we don't want negligent or dishonest investigations. But this isn't about placing blame. It's about figuring out what went wrong and how to do better." Reported AP:
Patricia Cox, Willingham's cousin, told commission members she appreciates the group's acknowledgment the forensic evidence used to convict her loved one was flawed.If the fire science used to convict Willingham was flawed, it hardly matters whether the error was intentional; it sets off major alarm bells: The same fire science was used in hundreds if not thousands of other arson convictions across Texas. CNN quoted state Sen. Rodney Ellis making that point:
"Even though there may not have been any malice or intent by fire investigators about not being informed on current standards, that doesn't excuse the fact that based on this misinformation, Cameron Todd Willingham was executed and that can't be corrected," said a tearful Cox.
On Friday, he said he was "happy" to hear the investigation would continue, but concerned that the investigation was looking for misconduct and negligence in the wrong place.The idea that potentially hundreds of others were falsely convicted of arson based on the same junk science has yet to be widely discussed, but it's almost certain there are many other, similar cases out there, including some people still in prison, some on parole, and some entirely off paper. All deserve to have their names cleared.
"Unfortunately, the commission is off-track in terms of what it should be investigating," he said in a statement. "It was painfully apparent that many FSC members believe that flawed science was used in the Willingham conviction, but the FSC does not seem interested in looking at the bigger picture: When did the State Fire Marshal start using modern arson science and did the State Fire Marshal commit professional negligence or misconduct when it failed to inform the courts, prosecutors, the Board of Pardons and Parole, and the Governor that flawed arson science had been used to convict hundreds of defendants?"
In Willingham's case in particular, perhaps it was perhaps excusable not to know back in 1992 that the testimony concluding he committed arson was wrong. But it was inexcusable for the courts and the Governor's office to allow the man's execution to go forward based on junk science in 2004, when the standards for arson investigation had (supposedly) long since formally changed.
Of course, that's precisely the conclusion the Governor was hoping the Commission would formally put off until after the November election when he appointed its new, obstructionist chairman and gave him his marching orders (or more accurately, his stalling orders). It's a tribute to the fact that Mr. Bradley is receiving pushback from his fellow commissioners that even this tepid, interim conclusion was publicly released.