Friday, July 23, 2010


"If you see smoke coming out of the Doubletree Hotel near Bush Intercontinental Airport today it won't be caused by arson.

It will be the eruption when Texas Forensic Science Commission Chairman John Bradley tries to end an investigation into whether the testimony of arson investigators that helped lead to a man's execution for murdering his children was "junk science.""....


BACKGROUND: (Wikipedia); Cameron Todd Willingham (January 9, 1968 – February 17, 2004), born in Carter County, Oklahoma, was sentenced to death by the state of Texas for murdering his three daughters—two year old Amber Louise Kuykendall, and one year old twins Karmon Diane Willingham and Kameron Marie Willingham— by setting his house on fire. The fire occurred on December 23, 1991 in Corsicana, Texas. Lighter fluid was kept on the front porch of Willingham’s house as evidenced by a melted container found there. Some of this fluid may have entered the front doorway of the house carried along by fire hose water. It was alleged this fluid was deliberately poured to start the fire and that Willingham chose this entrance way so as to impede rescue attempts. The prosecution also used other arson theories that have since been brought into question. In addition to the arson evidence, a jailhouse informant claimed Willingham confessed that he set the fire to hide his wife's physical abuse of the girls, although the girls showed no other injuries besides those caused by the fire. Neighbors also testified that Willingham did not try hard enough to save his children. They allege he "crouched down" in his front yard and watched the house burn for a period of time without attempting to enter the home or go to neighbors for help or request they call firefighters. He claimed that he tried to go back into the house but it was "too hot". As firefighters arrived, however, he rushed towards the garage and pushed his car away from the burning building, requesting firefighters do the same rather than put out the fire. After the fire, Willingham showed no emotion at the death of his children and spent the next day sorting through the debris, laughing and playing music. He expressed anger after finding his dartboard burned in the fire. Firefighters and other witnesses found him suspicious of how he reacted during and after the fire. Willingham was charged with murder on January 8, 1992. During his trial in August 1992, he was offered a life term in exchange for a guilty plea, which he turned down insisting he was innocent. After his conviction, he and his wife divorced. She later stated that she believed that Willingham was guilty. Prosecutors alleged this was part of a pattern of behavior intended to rid himself of his children. Willingham had a history of committing crimes, including burglary, grand larceny and car theft. There was also an incident when he beat his pregnant wife over the stomach with a telephone to induce a miscarriage. When asked if he had a final statement, Willingham said: "Yeah. The only statement I want to make is that I am an innocent man - convicted of a crime I did not commit. I have been persecuted for 12 years for something I did not do. From God's dust I came and to dust I will return - so the earth shall become my throne. I gotta go, road dog. I love you Gabby." However, his final words were directed at his ex-wife, Stacy Willingham. He turned to her and said "I hope you rot in hell, bitch" several times while attempting to extend his middle finger in an obscene gesture. His ex-wife did not show any reaction to this. He was executed by lethal injection on February 17, 2004. Subsequent to that date, persistent questions have been raised as to the accuracy of the forensic evidence used in the conviction, specifically, whether it can be proven that an accelerant (such as the lighter fluid mentioned above) was used to start the fatal fire. Fire investigator Gerald L. Hurst reviewed the case documents including the trial transcriptions and an hour-long videotape of the aftermath of the fire scene. Hurst said, "There's nothing to suggest to any reasonable arson investigator that this was an arson fire. It was just a fire."


"If you see smoke coming out of the Doubletree Hotel near Bush Intercontinental Airport today it won't be caused by arson," Rick Casey's Commentary, published earlier today in the Texas Chronicle begins, under the heading, "Commentary: Dousing a troublesome arson probe."

"It will be the eruption when Texas Forensic Science Commission Chairman John Bradley tries to end an investigation into whether the testimony of arson investigators that helped lead to a man's execution for murdering his children was "junk science,"
the commentary continues.

"Last fall, two days before one of the nation's top arson scientists was about to appear before the commission to explain his harsh criticism of evidence used to help convict Corsicana man Cameron Todd Willingham of deliberately setting the fire that killed his young children, Gov. Rick Perry abruptly named Bradley, district attorney of Williamson County, to replace the commission's founding chairman, Austin defense attorney Sam Bassett.

The matter was of some sensitivity to the governor. He had been asked by a prominent Texas arson expert to stay Willingham's execution based on a similar critique of the arson evidence against him. Perry ignored the request.

Bradley's first act was to cancel the meeting that was to hear arson expert Craig Beyler.

Bradley would later persuade the commission of seven scientists and two lawyers, which had previously pursued its work in public sessions as a body, to assign investigations to committees that would not be subject to the Open Meetings Act and could meet in secret.

Bradley named himself to chair the Willingham investigative committee.

Now Bradley has presented the commission with a legal memorandum that would severely limit the scope of its activities and would remove its authority to investigate the Willingham case.

The memorandum is peculiar in that it is neither dated nor signed. It says it was "drafted, reviewed and edited through the combined efforts of the two members of the FSC (Bradley and Fort Worth defense attorney Lance Evans), counsel for the Attorney General's Office, the Office of Court Administration and the Department of Public Safety."
Fight expected

But it skirts the issue of who actually wrote the memo and who agrees with it. Barbara Dean, the attorney general's counsel, has guided the commission from its beginning and didn't object to the previous discussion and decision that it had the authority to investigate the Willingham case.

And if Evans were to help weaken the commission, he would betray the Texas Criminal Defense Lawyers Association, which nominated him for the post.

The memorandum is clearly Bradley's work. What's more, it argues in the same direction as two staff lawyers of Perry's did when they tried to persuade former Chairman Bassett to drop the Willingham investigation.

I don't have space to go into Bradley's legal arguments, which rely on a very narrow interpretation of the law that created the commission, but his memo has been strongly rebutted by responses by Bassett and by an attorney for the Innocence Project, which filed the complaint that led to the Willingham investigation.

At least some members of the commission can be expected to put up a vigorous fight against Bradley's interpretation. It would restrict the commission to investigating only the activities of crime labs accredited by the Texas Department of Public Safety.
Undermining efforts

In addition, vice chairman Stephen Frost and three other Democratic members of the House Committee on Public Safety, which has jurisdiction over the commission, wrote a letter yesterday to Bradley objecting to his memo's "attempt to narrow the scope of the commission's jurisdiction and preclude it from completing vital tasks currently before the commission."

If the scientists lose to a district attorney who appears not only to be carrying water for the governor, but also to be undermining efforts to do away with sloppy science that too often helps prosecutors, it will be a tragedy.

Hundreds of Texas inmates sit in jail based on arson investigations, and many more throughout the nation.

Texas is the first state to seriously address the quality of these and other forensic disciplines. If Bradley gets his way today, that experiment will effectively be over."

The commentary can be found at:

PUBLISHER'S NOTE: The Toronto Star, my previous employer for more than twenty incredible years, has put considerable effort into exposing the harm caused by Dr. Charles Smith and his protectors - and into pushing for reform of Ontario's forensic pediatric pathology system. The Star has a "topic" section which focuses on recent stories related to Dr. Charles Smith. It can be accessed at:

For a breakdown of some of the cases, issues and controversies this Blog is currently following, please turn to:

Harold Levy: Publisher; The Charles Smith Blog;