Viewpoint: Postponed justice

“Postponed Justice” is the title of Jillian Sheridan’s editorial in the Daily Texan.

The Texas Senate Committee on Criminal Justice held a hearing yesterday to talk with the Texas Forensic Science Commission’s new chairman, John Bradley. They discussed, among other things, whether or not Bradley is serving as a political pawn for Gov. Rick Perry and whether Bradley plans to resurrect the commission’s controversial investigation into the science used to convict and execute Cameron Todd Willingham.

Perry appointed Bradley to the commission this fall, abruptly replacing his former appointees two days before the commission was set to hear a report from nationally recognized arson expert Craig Beyler. Austin criminal defense attorney Sam Bassett, the forensic science commission’s former chairman, says the commission has paid Beyler approximately $30,000 to review the science used in Willingham’s case, according to the publication Texas Lawyer. Beyler had determined that science was used inappropriately to reach a conviction.

Bradley promptly canceled the hearing, indefinitely postponing the commission’s conclusion on the Willingham case.

Not surprisingly, senators questioned whether Perry is using Bradley to postpone action on the Willigham case, likely until after the March 2010 gubernatorial primary.

Bradley’s response: “I don’t see myself as being someone else’s political pawn. And I don’t think you’ve ever seen that I behaved that way.”

Yet Bradley is in no hurry to hear from Beyler or to focus his commission on the controversy, though he does promise to take it up again some time in the future. Instead, he is calling those who want to move the investigation forward agenda pushers.

In a Dallas Observer editorial, Bradley wrote, “Those with agendas other than the advancement of forensic science have made exaggerated claims and drawn premature conclusions about the case. The commission can only ask that the public be patient and permit the commission to apply a disciplined, scientific approach to the investigation. That kind of work takes time, careful deliberation and is not likely to result in a simplistic report.”

But the commission had already dedicated years, and tens of thousands of dollars, to conducting an in-depth investigation. Apparently, Bradley is ready to throw out its efforts.
The former commission was ready to wrap up the Willingham case. Bassett told Texas Lawyer that before he was replaced, he had asked the governor’s office to allow him to remain on the commission for another two-year term. “I wanted to finish the work we started,” he said.

But political machinations are now suppressing that work and the case. Bradley has announced that his first priority will be establishing clear policies and procedures and that he may call a meeting to address housekeeping matters in January.

But the commission is unlikely to come to any conclusions on the science that resulted in the Perry-sanctioned execution of Willingham anytime soon ­— and certainly not before the March primary.

And when the commission eventually does consider the case, Bradley will be careful to avoid any suggestions of Willingham’s guilt or innocence. “The commission has to be very careful about the process that it develops so that we keep the focus … on forensic science and not on the criminal case,” Bradley told The Dallas Morning News.

Bradley may claim that he is not a pawn of the administration, but the evidence suggests otherwise.

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Hooman Hedayati

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