The integrity of the prosecution in a criminal case, and thus the public's faith in the justice system, can be severely eroded by news of mistakes, misconduct or sloppy investigations by those entrusted to ensure equal justice under the law.
The Texas Legislature created the Texas Forensic Science Commission in 2005 after a series of revelations about improper procedures in forensics labs used to test criminal evidence. The nine-member body is charged with reviewing forensic analysis problems in criminal cases.
The group's mission statement ( www.fsc.state.tx.us) says its role includes investigating "in a timely manner" allegations of "professional negligence or misconduct that would substantially affect the integrity of the results of a forensic analysis conducted by an accredited laboratory, facility or entity."
The commission was scheduled to meet today to hear from specialists and review a report by an expert it hired to examine evidence in an arson case that resulted in the 2004 execution of Cameron Todd Willingham. He had been convicted of murdering his children by setting a fire in 1991. The expert, Dr. Craig Beyler of Baltimore, concluded that investigators in the case had "poor understandings of fire science" and that the Corsicana blaze that killed Willingham's children was not arson.
If that's an accurate assessment, Texas executed an innocent man, other experts and death penalty opponents say. Gov. Rick Perry interrupted the fact-finding process by abruptly dismissing three of his four commission appointees, including Tarrant County prosecutor Alan Levy and Aliece Watts, a forensic scientist in Euless. Perry also removed commission Chairman Samuel Bassett, an Austin attorney.
Three other commission members were selected by the lieutenant governor, and two were named by the state attorney general.
To read the complete editorial, visit The Fort Worth Star-Telegram.