Not a single independent scientist came forth to defend the work of Texas Deputy Fire Marshal Manuel Vasquez, who died in 1994, or the Corsicana arson investigator.That sentiment from a commissioner reinforces my observation the day after the hearing that "the state fire marshal's circle-the-wagons mentality embarrassed themselves and the state. It was really pretty grim." Casey concludes by endorsing a reform to the commission's structure that would cost no money but perhaps afford more balance to the commission by disempowering Williamson County DA John Bradley as chair:
Instead of seeking a scientist, the State Fire Marshal's Office put forth Assistant State Fire Marshal Ed Salazar, a lawyer.
Armed with a PowerPoint that included pictures of the burned house, Salazar became impassioned with his criticism of the opposing experts, but he was short on analysis.
"It was embarrassing," said one scientist on the commission afterward.
By statute Bradley is on the commission to represent prosecutors. (There is also a defense attorney along with the seven scientists.)
While prosecutors are supposed to seek justice, perhaps it's understandable that Bradley is very vigorous in defending criminal convictions.
It makes sense to have someone playing that role on the commission. The scientists deserve to be challenged. But it makes no sense to have a prosecutor as chairman of a commission whose mission is scientific, not legalistic.
The Legislature should fix that this session, allowing the commissioners to elect their own chairman rather than having the governor appoint one.