It wasn't too difficult to convince a jury that Garland Leon "Butch" Martin of Midland was a wife abuser and a baby killer.Let's not have this fight again. The new fire marshal should stick with the agreement to review old cases.
The day in 1998 that his common-law wife, Marcia Pool, threatened to leave him because of abuse, their house went up in flames, killing Pool and their 20-month-old daughter. Martin, who was not at home, was convicted of arson and is serving three concurrent life sentences.
But now, modern science may impugn the jury's decision. Martin's conviction is one that some believe was based at least in part on "junk" science.
A number of forensic scientists and others are calling for additional reviews of arson-murder cases like Martin's because evidence was analyzed by methods now called into question or proved wrong. Members of the Texas Forensic Science Commission say they don't have the jurisdiction to investigate these cases, but they have told the Texas Innocence Project to team up with the State Fire Marshal's Office to determine whether the state has incarcerated people for arson-murders based on outdated science.
"To the extent that this review goes on, it is because of the voluntary participation of these agencies who think it's the right thing to do," commission attorney Lynn Robitaille said. The commission is expected to discuss the issue in more detail at its meeting Friday.
At issue, however, is whether a comprehensive review of such cases can or will be done. Skeptics say that the assessments would require a lot of time and resources and that such extensive work may not be possible.
An estimated 700 to 900 people are in Texas prisons for arson-related crimes, according to various sources. Of those, about 100 are from Tarrant and Dallas counties, state inmate records show.
Furthermore, the marshal's office, which early on pledged to assist such a review, is in transition. Any success in reviewing cases may largely depend on whether the new state fire marshal makes such an effort a priority, some say.
MORE: In her coverage, the Texas Tribune's Brandi Grissom sounds more sanguine that the review will go forward.
See prior, related Grits posts:
- What is the duty to notify defendants of past crime lab errors?
- New forensic commissioners appointed but agency jurisdiction too limited
- A 'confluence of interests' supporting debunked arson indicators
- Forensic commission urges review of old arson cases based on junk science
- Forensic commissioner: State fire marshal testimony 'embarrassing'
- Experts: Willingham investigation negligent even by 1991 standards
- The politics of reexamining flawed arson foresics
- If arson science in Willingham case was 'flawed,' what about other, similar cases?
- How best to vet old arson innocence claims?
- Willingham debate not focused on arson science
- Arson cases a tangle of science and supposition
- Arson cases fueling innocence debates
- Many arson convictions based on invalid science
- Arson convictions may be next venue for innocence claims
- College to develop screening processes for vetting old arson cases for bad forensic science