Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Forensic commissioner: State fire marshal testimony "embarrassing"

Houston Chronicle columnist Rick Casey offered this observation, supplemented with the opinion of at least one commissioner, regarding the expert testimony from the state fire marshal before the Texas Forensic Science Commission on the Todd Willingham case:
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.

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.
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:
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.


Anonymous said...

I'd love to see that happen Grits, but I fear that Perry and Bradley are too solidly in love with each other to allow that. Still, nice to see them take it on the chin.

Audrey said...

Why is prosecution given so much power that truth, in this case scientific eveidence, or even common sense does not enter into the judicial process? With unbridled power don't we have tyranny?

Anonymous said...

The only "embarassing" thing about the whole Willingham ordeal is how persistent liberal MSM reporters and commentators like Casey are in refusing to report all of the other evidence supporting Willingham's guilt. Their anti-death penalty agenda is so transparent it's becoming almost laughable!

Robert Langham said...

A fair and impartial panel whose interest is in accurate scientific fact and procedures is NOT about the anti-death penalty advocates. It's what Texans deserve.
Just do the science please and let the chips fall as they may.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous 1/11/2011/10:40 Its also embarrassing that our tough on crime crowd with their war on drugs has become transparent and are showing themselves to be closed minded ignoramus who use fundamental judgment based in idolatry to criminalize everything they don’t like. Today the left shows themselves to be Marxist while the right wants to be Nazis. Are there any moderates able to step up and get this country back on track?

Anonymous said...

What happens from here?

Will Bradley admit he was wrong?

What are the consequences?


Anonymous said...

Of course Willinham's guilty. Why he confessed to me just last week.

Hook Em Horns said...


Why is prosecution given so much power that truth, in this case scientific eveidence, or even common sense does not enter into the judicial process?

Allow me please. The prosecution has incredible power in Texas largely because we have all bought this tough on crime nonsense that ignores due process and trivial matters like evidence.

Texas justice truly flies by the seat of it's pants convicting and imprisoning with reckless abandon which is why we lead the nation in DNA exonerations including several from our infamous death row.

We have bought it and paid for it but asking us to ADMIT IT and do something about is is nowhere close to happening!

Anonymous said...

There have been DNA exonerations from Texas Death Row? Who?

Hook Em Horns said...

Anonymous said...
There have been DNA exonerations from Texas Death Row? Who?

1/11/2011 06:40:00 PM

Forgive me anonymous, you are correct in that the exonerees from death row happened because of LIARS not DNA. Thanks for pointing this out.

In Texas, liars and malfeasance permeate our justice system enough so that the Supreme Court just awhile ago STAYED ANOTHER TEXECUTION!

Anonymous said...

I know it will never happen but I have an idea that would put an end to many of the prosecutorial abuses. While researching the issue of prosecutorial misconduct and immunity I came across some information on the English system. In that system they have "barristers" who work both as prosecutors and defense attorneys on different cases. This removes some of the biases and win at all costs attitudes.

There's been a move in some areas to start public defeder offices. Instead they should merge these offices with the prosecutors office and just have "advocates" that, one day may be a prosecutor and the next day a defense attorney.

That way, the defense attorneys would have access to all of the same resources as prosecutors. That would be fair.

Of course, I know it will never happen but, I think it would be a good idea.

Anonymous said...

This whole thing is a fascinating experiment in new journalism. A reporter quotes one of six commissioners, who had a juicy quote, and writes a story that will appear to most casual readers to represent the findings of the Forensic Science Commission. Does anyone come away from this story knowing that the Commission has not finished its review? What if the other 5 commissioners feel differently? There was a wealth of information in that hearing that's not being covered. What's truly embarrassing is the state of journalism today.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

8:02, readers would certainly know that if they follow this blog.

I wonder, when was this golden age of journalism when writers gave such comprehensive coverage that it satisfied every reader as fair and accurate? Not in my lifetime.

Hooman Hedayati said...

You can view the original footage of the forensic Science Commission hearing online at: