Thursday, October 31, 2013

Dallas News to AG: Don't go looking for trouble by nixing arson review

The Dallas News editorial board published a staff editorial last week (reprinted in full on the Odessa American website for those without a subscription) chastising West Texas DA Rod Ponton out of Fort Stockton for requesting an Attorney General opinion that would block state fire marshal Chris Conneally's review of flawed science in old arson cases (see prior Grits coverage). Ponton wants Attorney General and Texas gubernatorial candidate Greg Abbot to stop the fire marshal's investigation into shoddy forensics, pulling a page from John Bradley's playbook when Rick Perry appointed him chair of the Forensic Science Commission and he tried to stop the FSC's investigation into the Todd Willingham case. Here's how the editorial begins and ends:
Don’t go looking for trouble where bad arson convictions are concerned.

That’s the gist of a West Texas district attorney’s request to Attorney General Greg Abbott — essentially a request for roadblocks to analyzing old arson cases where modern science casts new light on expert testimony used to convict people.

Problem is, the trouble can’t hide. It’s already clear that the justice system has allowed junk science into Texas courtrooms. It would be a travesty to turn a blind eye to the injustice that has caused, and Abbott should not be a party to it.

Criminal justice reformers have made progress to modernize the use of forensic science in Texas, and we’d hate to see that rolled back. ...

It doesn’t become the district attorney to try to build a wall against the truth. Opponents of the [Todd] Willingham inquiry tried that, and the Forensic Science Commission refused to wear the muzzle. It’s a credit to Connealy that he is taking seriously the duty to correct.

This year, state lawmakers struck two more blows for modernized forensic standards. One, they clarified the Forensic Science Commission’s authority to pursue arson cases. Two, they passed a law to give appeals courts new rationale to overturn convictions secured through outmoded forensic work.

Through the court system, the state wields awesome power over an individual’s liberties. There should be no tolerance for any vestiges of junk science to remain in the state’s legal arsenal.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

What's Rod Ponton trying to keep hidden? Surely his motive must be a case he wants to keep in the closet.

Anonymous said...

FYI-

The Texas Forensic Science Commission is meeting today. On the schedule...
Update on arson case review and implementation of recommendations.
(Chris Connealy, State Fire Marshal/Jeff Blackburn, Innocence Project of Texas)

Let's hope Rod Ponton shows up.
The meeting can be watched live online.

Anonymous said...

I have a feeling Greg Abbott is probably not going to feel the least bit intimidated by the bleeding hearts at the DMN editorial board.

Anonymous said...

https://www.texasattorneygeneral.gov/opinions/opinions/50abbott/op/2014/pdf/ga1048.pdf