2/28/2011 11:22 AM
It appears Texas Democrats will use the nomination of Williamson County District Attorney John Bradley as presiding officer of the Texas Forensic Science Commission as the first confirmation fight of the 2011 Legislative Session. The Senate Nominations Committee approved Bradley's nomination today 4-2, with both of the committee's Democrats -- Sens. Jose Rodriguez (D-El Paso) and Kirk Watson (D-Austin) -- voting no. The Texas Forensic Science Commission is the one looking into the arson evidence used at the trial of executed murderer Cameron Todd Willingham. The victims: his three daughters, two-year-old Amber Louise Kuykendall, and one-year-old twins Karmon Diane and Kameron Marie Willingham.
Rodriguez and Sen. Rodney Ellis (D-Houston) questioned Bradley at length over two items -- the commission's handling of the Cameron Todd Willingham case and the commission's decision to seek an attorney general's opinion on its jurisdiction and specifically whether the act creating the commission restricts its authority to cases and forensic work done after its creation. The Democrats expressed concern about the length of time it is taking for the commission to review the Willingham case.
The elephant in the room (no pun intended) was the timing of the governor's appointment. During the 2010 gubernatorial campaign, the Capitol Press Corps was going ballistic over the Willingham case. (Of course, an objective analysis of the evidence in that case shows the Corsicana DA had a strong case and there was evidence in addition to the disputed arson report.) That said, Perry replaced four members of the commission right as it was getting ready to launch an investigation into the Willingham case and the new appointee's first actions on the commission involved delaying taking up the Willingham matter. That, more than the factors publicly stated, may have a lot to do with Democrats' concern with this appointment.
One additional key point -- the Forensic Science Commission is not tasked with determining an individual's guilt or innocence -- that's what courts are for. The commission hears complaints about negligence or misconduct by forensic laboratories in the state. Therefore, as much as the press might want it to, the commission is not charged with re-litigating Willingham's guilt or innocence. Its only function is to examine the quality of forensic evidence in the state.