The Forensic Science Commission likely won’t be looking at the controversial Cameron Todd Willingham case any longer, if it abides by a decision released today by Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott. The commission has spent two years looking at the disputed science used to convict Willingham for a 1991 arson that killed three children. Willingham was sentenced to death, and he was executed in 2004. “Although the Forensic Science Commission may conduct investigations of incidents that occurred before September 1, 2005, the law that created the Commission prohibits the FSC from considering evidence that was tested or offered into evidence prior to that date,” Abbott wrote. “The Forensic Science Commission's investigative authority is limited to those laboratories, facilities, or entities that were accredited by the Department of Public Safety at the time the forensic analyses took place.” Dr. Nizam Peerwani, the chairman of the commission, says, "I think the AG is pretty precise that anything before Sept. 1, 2005 is outside of our area of responsibility." He says, "It has a far reaching impact going forward. We’re still looking at it and what’s going to happen." The commission plans to consult with its legal counsel and will discuss the opinion at its September meeting, he says. John Bradley, the Williamson County District Attorney who served as chairman of the commission until recently, is pleased with the opinion. “Hallelujah, the rule of law wins,” Bradley says. “I was glad to see that the attorney general agreed with the legal opinion that I had presented to the forensic science commission originally.” Lisa Graybill, legal director of the ACLU of Texas who filed a brief with the AG’s office on the issue, arguing that the commission should be expansive in its review authority, is disappointed. She says that, while the AG’s opinion is nonbinding, the commission likely will follow it. “The politics around the Forensic Science Commission have been troubling, and this further illustrates that,” Graybill says.
-- John Council