Upcoming Executions
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Innocence
The death penalty puts innocent people at risk of execution.
Todd Willingham
Todd Willingham was wrongfully executed under Governor Rick Perry on February 17, 2004.

Here is a link to the live stream of the Forensic Science Meeting.  

View the meeting agenda.


Eugenia Willingham and Patricia Willingham Cox will probably make public comments to the commission at the end of the meeting. The are pictured below with TMN’s Scott Cobb.




Members of Texas Moratorium Network and others are in Houston this morning to attend the meeting of the Texas Forensic Science Commission. We intend to let Rick Perry’s appointed chair/puppet John Bradley know that it is Texans, not just “New York lawyers”, who are concerned that our state government suffered an epic FAIL and may have executed an innocent person. We demand the investigation into the Willingham case be made the highest priority of the Commission and of the State government of Texas.

If Rick Perry had done his job properly as governor, the people of Texas would not have to be worried now that an innocent person has been executed in our names. The only person who has politicized the work of the Texas Forensic Science Commission is Texas Governor Rick Perry.

From CNN:


(CNN) — A Texas state board is set Friday to revisit questions surrounding a controversial 2004 execution, with supporters of the man’s family warning the panel is trying to bury its own critical review of the case.
Cameron Todd Willingham was executed in 2004 for a fire that killed his three daughters. Prosecutors argued that Willingham deliberately set the 1991 blaze — but three reviews of the evidence by outside experts have found the fire should not have been ruled arson.
The last of those reports was ordered by the Texas Forensic Sciences Commission, which has been looking into Willingham’s execution since 2008. But a September 2009 shake-up by Texas Gov. Rick Perry has kept that panel from reviewing the report, and the commission’s new chairman has ordered a review of its operating rules. Critics say that may kill the probe.
“They are attempting permanently to keep the investigation from continuing and moving on, and I do believe it’s because they don’t like the direction the evidence is leading,” Willingham’s cousin, Pat Cox, said Thursday.
The Forensic Science Commission’s chairman is now John Bradley, an Austin-area district attorney with a reputation as a staunch supporter of the death penalty. Bradley has pledged to state lawmakers that the Willingham investigation “absolutely” will continue — but said the panel needs better rules to guide its work, and could not say when the Willingham issue would move forward.
Thursday, he told CNN that concerns of Willingham’s supporters were based on “a lot of misinformation.”
“I think that’s being used very much as a side issue to politicize, through some New York lawyers, the work of the commission,” Bradley said. “The commission has been very clear that the commission is going to address the merits of the Willingham case.”
The panel meets again Friday in Houston, and one of the items on its agenda is a legal opinion arguing that the panel has “relatively narrow investigative jurisdiction.” The unsigned memorandum argues that the commission’s mandate covers only cases on which a state-accredited forensic laboratory worked.
But because Texas started accrediting crime labs in 2003, Cox and others who have backed the family say that would mean cases such as Willingham’s and that of another inmate, Ernest Willis, would be dropped. State Sen. Rodney Ellis, who pushed for the commission’s creation, calls the opinion flawed.
The Forensic Sciences Commission “was operating within the language and intent of the law when it determined that it had jurisdiction to investigate the case the first time in August 2008,” Ellis said in a written statement to CNN. “Frankly, I am surprised that the commission is even questioning whether or not it has jurisdiction, since it unanimously decided — with the attorney general’s representative in the room — to review the cases over two years ago.”
Ellis, a Houston Democrat, serves as the chairman of the board of The Innocence Project — the “New York lawyers” that have supported efforts by Willingham’s stepmother and cousins to clear his name. The group advocates for prisoners it says are wrongly convicted, and Ellis said the commission’s work “is too important to be bogged down in political bickering.”
“Texans need the FSC to perform its work in a timely manner, so the public can once again have confidence in forensic evidence and confidence that the truly guilty are behind bars and the innocent are free,” he said.
But Bradley said the commission has never decided to apply the logic of the legal opinion to the case on Friday’s agenda.
Bradley was named the panel’s chairman two days before the Forensic Sciences Commission was to hear from Craig Beyler, a Maryland-based fire science expert. Beyler concluded the arson finding at the heart of the Willingham case “could not be sustained,” either by current standards or those in place at the time.
The Innocence Project requested the investigation after a report it commissioned reached the same conclusion. Death-penalty opponents say an impartial review of Willingham’s case could lead to the unprecedented admission that the state executed an innocent man.
Perry, who signed off on Willingham’s execution, is up for re-election in November, and his critics have accused him of trying to short-circuit that review. Perry has said he remains confident of the condemned man’s guilt, and police in the town of Corsicana, where the fire occurred, say other evidence beyond the arson testimony Beyler criticized supports the prosecution.
Cox, a retired nurse in Ardmore, Oklahoma, told CNN that spiking the commission’s investigation would be a “blatant miscarriage of justice.”
“The reasonable people of this country and the state of Texas can see through what this is,” she said.

Todd Willingham’s last lawyer, Walter Reaves, has written a blog post on what he expects at Friday’s meeting of the Texas Forensic Science Commission in Houston:

I was going to talk about the ridiculousness about the recent memo from the Texas Forensic Science Commission. Basically, the memo says they don’t have jurisdiction to do anything. They concluded that they do not have “discretion or power to investigate any and every complainant alleging professional negligence or misconduct involving a forensic science.” The complaint must involve a “discipline” recognized by the DPS and accredited by DPS. In practical terms, that means they can’t investigate the Cameron Todd Willingham case. Yes, I know he promised that would not happen, but anyone who actually believed him deserves what they are getting.

I decided not to talk about that decision, because by now everyone knows what to expect from the commission. Their goal – at least under the leadership of John Bradley – has been to scuttle the investigation into Willingham, and anything else that might hinder law enforcement. He has successfully done what many lawyers attempt – avoid doing anything. This new memo goes a long way to ensuring that they will not get involved in anything meaningful.

What struck me about the memo is the power DPS has to both decide what is a forensic discipline, and who gets accredited. DPS is not without its own problems, but despite those problems they apparently have the all knowing ability to determine who should or should not be accredited. It reminds of a story a someone told me about an individual who couldn’t get certified as a fire investigator. He ended up establishing his own organization, and certified himself; that organization now certifies others.

DPS is an arm of law enforcement, and no matter how hard they try they cannot divorce themselves from their identity. One of the main recommendations of the National Academy of Sciences was that crime labs be separated from law enforcement. If the crime lab should be separate, then surely the authority to accredit such labs should also be separate.

Another thing that struck me, was the definition of what is a forensic discipline. If it’s not a forensic discipline, then no accreditation is necessary. The legislature exempted certain things, and DPS is given authority to exempt others. There are at least two that stand out in the legislature’s exemptions – latent fingerprint examination and breath tests. If those two areas don’t involve forensic analysis, then what are they? Fingerprint examiners like to talk about how their “scientific” their process is. As for breath tests, the very tests are based on scientific principles. The reason for exempting them probably lies in the fear that they might not be able to overcome the strict scrutiny given to other forensic disciplines.

The commission meets next week, and no doubt will discuss this memo. My guess is that it will be repeat of the last meeting – they will spend all their time talking about what they can and cannot do, and avoid actually doing anything.

Below is the memo that Walter Reaves refers to in his blog post.

TFSC memo

The Texas Forensic Science Commission has posted its agenda for its meeting in Houston on July 23, 2010 at the Doubletree Houston Intercontinental Airport, 15747 JFK Boulevard, Houston, Texas 77032 (Map and directions). The meeting starts at 9:30 AM, but is expected to last all day and the public comment period will be at the end of the meeting.

Forensic panel must resist chair’s efforts at sabotage
By BARRY SCHECK and PATRICIA WILLINGHAM COX,
INNOCENCE PROJECT:

This Friday, the Texas Forensic Science Commission (TFSC) is meeting in Houston to discuss, among other things, the status of its inquiry into whether arson investigations across the state have been based for many years on outdated and discredited scientific analysis and that the Texas criminal justice system has failed to recognize this fact. The inquiry arose from two cases — those of Cameron Todd Willingham and Ernest Willis — in which arson had been found and both men were sentenced to death.

In Willis’ case, the system identified its error when Ori White, the prosecutor responsible for retrial after appeal, relying on the expertise of Dr. Gerald Hurst, realized how wrong the original arson analysis was. He promptly moved to dismiss the case, and Willis was ultimately pardoned on the grounds of actual innocence.

Cameron Todd Willingham was not so lucky. Despite asserting his innocence, he was executed in 2004 based on the same arson evidence that prosecutor White — and the arson community nationwide — had realized was scientifically baseless. Before Willingham was executed, Gov. Rick Perry ignored a plea from Hurst, the expert Ori White relied upon, that arson analysis in Willingham’s case was plainly unreliable.

Our interest in these issues is not abstract. One of us, Patricia Cox, is a cousin of Cameron Todd Willingham. The other, Barry Scheck, is co-founder of the Innocence Project, which exonerates the wrongfully convicted through DNA evidence.

In May 2006, we asked the TFSC to undertake this inquiry about arson evidence. We submitted a 48-page report from an independent panel of the nation’s leading arson investigators, which concluded that the scientific analysis used to convict Willingham was not valid. The commissioners then engaged their own national expert to review the matter, who agreed that the forensic analysis used to convict Willingham was wrong — and further, that experts who testified at Willingham’s trial should have known it was wrong at the time. Days before that expert was to present his findings, Perry removed three commissioners, including the chair, Sam Bassett, and appointed Williamson County District Attorney John Bradley as the new chair. Bradley immediately shut down the Willingham hearing.

In an op-ed on these pages last November, Bradley denied charges that his actions were politically motivated and decried those “[who] have made exaggerated claims and drawn premature conclusions about the case.” He then assured Texans that the commission’s investigation “will be completed” using a “disciplined, scientific approach.” Instead, what we have seen so far is not a review of scientific issues but a bureaucratic effort to undermine, if not end, the Willingham inquiry by rewriting the commission’s rules and its jurisdiction.

Last week, after closed meetings that may violate the Texas Open Meetings Act, Bradley sent out an unsigned legal memo instructing commissioners that they have a “relatively narrow investigative jurisdiction.”

Employing “Catch-22” logic, he claimed that commissioners lack the “discretion or power” to investigate evidence that was not from a laboratory accredited by the Department of Public Safety (DPS) — which, as it happens, did not accredit labs before 2003, years after the Willingham fire. By this reasoning, the TFSC cannot review any pre-2003 matter, such as the Houston Police Department crime lab evidence, the scandal that gave rise to its formation.
In 2008, the TFSC carefully considered the jurisdiction question, and, with assent from the Attorney General’s office, determined that the Willingham and other old cases like it are well within its authority.

And rightly so: The Willingham inquiry into the use of unreliable arson analysis is an urgent matter for more than 600 people incarcerated in Texas whose arson convictions may have been based on invalid science. If its investigation is derailed, the commissioners would be turning their backs on these potentially innocent Texans.

Rather than becoming mired in bureaucratic shell games, the commissioners should take their cue from the FBI, which, after learning that a scientific test it used for three decades to do composite bullet lead analysis was unreliable, not only stopped using this flawed science but systematically reviewed its old cases and notified prosecutors across the country when it could no longer stand behind the testimony of its own agent examiners. The same should be done in this instance.

The people of Texas deserve a justice system they can believe in. But if commissioners keep allowing Bradley to rewrite the rules and sabotage the commission’s mission, their ability to redress the forensic problems that have plagued the criminal justice system in Texas will never materialize.

Scheck is co-founder of the Innocence Project; Cox is a cousin of Cameron Todd Willingham.

Today, July 20, 2010 Texas is set to execute Derrick Jackson. He would be the 462nd person executed in Texas since 1982 and the 223rd person since Rick Perry became governor. He would be the 15th person executed in Texas in 2010. 


Call Governor Perry and express your opposition to the death penalty 512 463-2000. Email Perry using his website contact form.

Nearly 22 years after two Houston opera singers were fatally battered and slashed inside their apartment, the man convicted of killing them is set to die Tuesday by lethal injection.
Derrick Jackson, 42, would be the 15th Texas prisoner put to death this year in Huntsville in the nation’s most active death penalty state. The execution is scheduled for after 6 p.m.
A Harris County jury convicted Jackson and sentenced him to die in 1998 for the September 1988 murders of Forrest Henderson and Richard Wrotenbery, both 31 and chorus members at the Houston Grand Opera.
The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals Monday rejected an appeal from Jackson’s lawyers. They had argued prosecutors improperly withheld some evidence from Jackson’s trial attorneys and raised questions about whether Jackson could be mentally impaired and therefore ineligible for execution.
Jackson was arrested in 1992 for three robberies and took a plea bargain that put him in prison for 12 years. He was in prison on those convictions when authorities began looking at him as a suspect in the 1988 slayings.
“I made some bad decisions,” Jackson told The Associated Press recently from a tiny visiting cage outside death row.

From the Houston Chronicle:

Carl Wrotenbery of Fort Worth, said the impact of his son’s death will “go with me to my grave.”
The elder Wrotenbery, a retired library director at Fort Worth’s Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, said he is ambivalent about capital punishment. “When you come to the personal aspect of it, pure logic says for someone to do a crime of this nature, unprovoked — Alan was in the wrong place at the wrong time – it’s hard for me to think the death penalty is unjustified.”
Wrotenbery said he plans to witness the execution. “I’ve made my reservation,” he said. “I feel like it’s my duty as a father and head of the clan. I feel a responsibility to be there and see this done for other family members who, though they may have strong feelings, won’t be able. I have no real desire to be there. I don’t expect to feel anything different. It’s just an unpleasant duty.”

Crime-lab problems

Wrotenbery said the case, marked by false investigative starts and long delays, was hard on his family.
Years after Jackson’s conviction, the way police handled the case was criticized by Michael Bromwich, the independent investigator hired to review operations of the department’s troubled crime lab.
In his 2007 report, Brom-wich found that a technician apparently manipulated lab findings to bolster the case against detectives’ prime suspect of the moment.
When an early suspect had Type O blood, Bromwich wrote, the employee neglected to report that Type B blood was found on an apartment door. Only when a charge was lodged against Jackson, who has Type B blood, was the fact added to the report.
In his death row interview, Jackson challenged those fingerprint findings and blasted a series of defense lawyers who, he said, “helped me get down to the execution chamber.”
“I don’t stay up at night and have nightmares,” Jackson said. “I pray for myself. I hate the fact that I’m being blamed and will be killed, but it’s more sadness than hate.”

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