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Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Time Magazine: Why Did Texas Gut Its Forensics Commission?

Time magazine just put up a new story "Why Did Texas Gut Its Forensics Commission?".

For the entire longer story click here.

Here is an excerpt:

But, in the past week, a brouhaha over his refusal to reappoint three members of an obscure forensic-science commission has political observers wondering if Perry, who is facing a potentially bruising GOP primary battle, has made a political misstep.

A well-placed source has confirmed to TIME that Perry ignored the written pleas from several members of the Texas Forensic Science Commission, including two of his own appointees, to reappoint the board's well-respected chairman, Austin lawyer Sam Bassett. Bassett's departure has resulted in a delay in an important investigation of evidence in a death-penalty case that critics say will prove an innocent man was executed on Perry's watch. ...

Sarah Kerrigan, a forensic toxicologist who was appointed by Texas attorney general Greg Abbott, told TIME that she had circulated a letter she had sent "three or four weeks ago" in support of Bassett to Perry among the commission's members and she was aware of similar letters written by Watts and Levy. (The governor appoints four members of the forensics board; the state attorney general appoints two and the lieutenant governor appoints three. In this case, Bassett, Levy and Watts were all Perry appointees. Bassett was first named to the commission in 2005 and reappointed in 2007.) ...

Kerrigan says the members believe it is important for continuity to keep Bassett on board in order to wrap up not only the Willingham report, but also preside over several important roundtables aimed at improving forensics standards — part of a nationwide initiative prompted by a report on forensic shortcomings by the National Academy of Sciences. Bassett told TIME he was dismayed and puzzled by Perry's decision. "I certainly hope this change is not about political concerns," Bassett says.

Some political observers speculate that Perry's actions may have something to do with the potentially bruising March 2, 2010, Republican gubernatorial primary in which he is set to face off against U.S. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison. The Senator has already raised forensic accuracy as an issue. "I am for the death penalty," Hutchison told the Dallas Morning News in response to Perry's actions, "but always with the absolute assurance that you have the ability to be sure, with the technology that we have, that a person is guilty." It is a stance Bassett agrees with. He supports the death penalty in some cases but adds, "We just have to make damn sure we are relying on the best quality evidence possible."

Sign a petition to Governor Rick Perry and the State of Texas to acknowledge that the fire in the Cameron Todd Willingham case was not arson, therefore no crime was committed and on February 17, 2004, Texas executed an innocent man.

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