The Wednesday afternoon massacre is now history, and the question is what's next for the Texas Forensic Commission. I'm referring to Gov. Perry's decision on Wednesday to replace 3 members of the commission -which included the chairman - two days before they were scheduled to meet and discuss the findings of Dr. Craig Beyler. If you've been on a deserted island for awhile, Dr. Beyler was hired by the commission to review the cases of Cameron Willingham and Ernest Willis. He reached the same conclusion all the other experts had, which was that fire was not inentionally set. Of course if there was no arson, there was no crime. The problem of course is that Cameron Todd Willingham has already been executed. To make things worse, he was executed even though Gov. Perry was furnished with a report from another expert which suggested the fire was not intentionally set.
I've said before that I never had much faith that the forensic commission was going to accomplish anything useful. After all, its a political body, which Gov. Perry so emphatically emphasized by his recent actions. The question now is how the commission is going to deal with the case.
No matter what his public remarks may be (i.e. the "air quotes" around experts), I don't think Gov. Perry is stupid enough to believe that the facts are going to miraculously change. The case has already been reviewed by all the leading experts, and they all reached the same conclusion. For anyone to contradict that now would be suspect to say the least. So I think you have to conclude that at a minimum the testimony that sent to Todd Willingham to his death was completely false.
Grits recently wrote about the question I have always had about this whole process; what can they really do. They aren't going to admit they killed an innocent person, and that is probably beyond the scope of their charge anyway. They could come up with guidelines for using expert testimony, and there certainly is room for improvement there. They could also make a statement about arson science, which I doubt that they will do because of the impact it could have on other cases. Grits suggests they will just take the case off the agenda, and I think he probably has a point.
Realistically, I don't think anyone expects the Governor's hand picked chairman to do anything that puts him in a bad light - especially in the middle of a contested election. There is no way to do anything on this case without doing that. By keeping the case on the agenda it also keeps it before the general public. And the more Gov. Perry tries to defend what he did the more he looks like an idiot. The best thing that could happen for him would be for the case to go away. While that might never happen, the next best thing for them would be to stop doing things to draw attention to it.
So my prediction is that the new chairman will take his time, and after the passage of sufficient amount ot time - to convince everyone they fully reviewed the matter - they will vote to remove the case from the commission's agenda. No doubt it will be accompanied by some statement that there are other more important matters for the commission to address that will have more of an impact on future cases. As for the latter statement, there is a lot of truth in it. The way courts handle forensic evidence does need to be overhauled.
I guess time will tell - I'm not holding my breath for anything to happen soon though.