Thursday, January 06, 2011

Experts to Testify to Forensic Science Commission Friday in Todd Willingham Case

The Texas Forensic Science Commission will devote the entire January 7, 2011 meeting to the case of Todd Willingham. They are scheduled to hear testimony from arson experts, including Craig Beyler. The hearing starts at 9:30 AM, but members of Texas Moratorium Network, Campaign to End the Death Penalty, Texas Death Penalty Abolition Movement and others plan to be outside the building at 8:30 AM with signs.

The hearing is in the Central Services Building, 1711 San Jacinto Boulevard Room 402 in Austin. We will go inside before the hearing starts. RSVP on the Facebook event pageThe Innocence Project will show the meeting live on its website.
There will likely be a period devoted to receiving comments from the public. We invite members of the public to show up, bring signs and even make comments during the public comments period to let the Commission know that Texans Todd Willingham was wrongfully executed and that Texas should stop all executions through a moratorium on executions.
Before his execution, Todd Willingham said, “Please don’t ever stop fighting to vindicate me.”  
More on the meeting from the Austin American-Statesman:

The Texas Forensic Science Commission will hear from four fire investigation experts Friday as it continues to examine the science used to convict and execute Cameron Todd Willingham.
The special meeting in Austin, postponed from November, was sought by the commission’s scientists to help them answer two key questions:
  1. What was the state of fire science, and what were fire investigators expected to know, in 1991 and 1992? That’s when two investigators used now-discredited techniques to conclude that Willingham intentionally set fire to his Corsicana home, killing his three young children.
  2. What responsibility did the state fire marshal’s office have to reopen its Willingham investigation, and similar arson cases, once the agency realized scientific advancements had vastly improved the practice of arson investigation?
According to the commission, these invited experts have committed to appear Friday:
  • Assistant State Fire Marshal Ed Salazar, second in command at the office that helps investigate suspicious fires statewide. One of the office’s investigators was instrumental in the 1992 conviction of Willingham, and the office recently stood by that investigation despite criticism from every modern, outside fire investigator to re-examine its conclusions.
  • John DeHaan, one of the nation’s leading fire experts who has spent more than 35 years investigating fires. DeHaan wrote five editions of “Kirk’s Fire Investigation,” the most widely used textbook in the field, and co-wrote a companion text, “Forensic Fire Scene Reconstruction.” He is a frequent expert witness at arson trials, often testifying for the prosecution.
  • Craig Beyler, president of the International Association of Fire Safety Science, is also one of the nation’s top fire investigators. Beyler was hired by the commission to analyze the Willingham fire and wrote a 2009 report that disputed every conclusion used to rule the fire an arson.
  • Thomas Wood, a senior investigator with the Houston Fire Department. In a 2010 letter to the science commission, Wood said Willingham investigators could not be considered negligent because their arson conclusions were based on investigative standards common to that era.
The meeting begins at 9:30 a.m. in Room 402 of the Central Services Building, 1711 San Jacinto Blvd.
The Innocence Project will show the meeting live on its website.
The New York-based organization today criticized the commission’s decision not to invite two noted experts, Austin chemist Gerald Hurst and fire investigator John Lentini. Both men conducted outside examinations of the Willingham case and concluded that investigators based their arson finding on faulty science.
Hurst and Lentini testified during an October hearing before now-retired Austin District Judge Charlie Baird, who led an inquiry into whether Willingham was wrongfully executed. An appeals court halted the inquiry before Baird could issue a finding.

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