The Dallas Morning News has an editorial today saying that the Texas Forensic Science Commission should hold public meetings of all of its committees, including the committee dealing with the Todd Willingham investigation.
We agree and after last Friday’s meeting, Texas Moratorium Network started an online petition to allow the public to contact FSC Chair John Bradley and other members of the Commission to urge them to hold public meetings.
Click here to sign the petition, which sends an email to the Commission every time someone signs.
The Texas Forensic Science Commission has taken a step forward and then tap-danced behind a cloud of secrecy under the leadership of new Chairman John Bradley.Disturbing philosophy“I don’t think that is in the best interest of trying to move forward on this, because the ability to discuss and resolve these issues requires us to have those discussions in private. … All of our issues will be released publicly during full commission meetings.”–John Bradley, chairman of the Texas Commission on Forensic Science, when asked about keeping committee meetings openMeeting Friday for just the second time since Bradley was named in September, the commission resumed work on the four-year-old complaint filed in the Cameron Todd Willingham execution case.That made good Bradley’s promise to state lawmakers to advance the matter. He also should get credit for asking those commissioners who have been working two-plus years on the case to fully air their opinions.None disagreed that much more information is needed beyond the searing critique from eminent arson scientist Craig Beyler.Just how – and how much – information should be gathered is a matter of keen public interest, but Bradley wants the initial course to be charted in private.That’s an awful approach.Everyone knows the Beyler report is a potential political grenade. In a report to the commission last summer, Beyler said state and local investigators ignored sound scientific techniques in concluding that arson caused the 1991 fire that killed Willingham’s three daughters in their Corsicana home. Convicted of murder, Willingham was executed in 2004 – Rick Perry, governor.Commissioners say they need to study a range of documents, including the full transcript of the trial, in which state and local arson investigators testified. Commissioners said they have questions for Beyler and probably for other experts.Nearly all of the nine commissioners are scientists, and they should pursue the evidence they need. Their job is not to reconsider the verdict against Willingham, but to determine whether junk science was part of his trial.The matter is now before a four-person committee that Bradley formed to guide the Willingham case. Bradely, the district attorney of Williamson County, named one defense attorney to the committee, which achieves balance. But limiting membership to four means the committee isn’t a commission quorum and, therefore, doesn’t trigger an open-meetings requirement.Secret meetings run contrary to a basic principle of public service. State law and the Texas Constitution give some investigatory bodies authority to conduct business confidentially. The State Commission on Judicial Conduct is one. The forensics commission, however, is not.Nowhere did lawmakers give the commission that latitude when they created it in 2005. Procedures the commission adopted in January are silent on the matter. Some commissioners said after Friday’s meeting that they were surprised that committee sessions would be done in secret.When Perry installed Bradley and three other new members last fall, critics hatched the theory that the governor wanted the Willingham matter frozen until after the 2010 election. Bradley has said he didn’t accept Perry’s appointment to be somebody’s puppet, and we’ll accept that at face value. At the same time, though, he must see that public confidence is at stake. The way to preserve that is to conduct state business where the state can see it.“I don’t think that is in the best interest of trying to move forward on this, because the ability to discuss and resolve these issues requires us to have those discussions in private. … All of our issues will be released publicly during full commission meetings.”–John Bradley, chairman of the Texas Commission on Forensic Science, when asked about keeping committee meetings open