Thursday, November 3, 2011

New members appointed to Texas forensic science panel

It's out with the old and in with the new on the Texas Forensic Science Commission as the Fair-haired One appointed three new members and reappointed an existing member.

The new members are Tarrant County ADA Richard Alpert who replaces the governor's bagman, Williamson County DA John Bradley; Dr. Vincent DiMaio, former Bexar County medical examiner who replaces Dr. Norma Farley, chief forensic pathologist in Cameron and Hidalgo counties; and Mr. Bobby Lerma, a criminal defense attorney from Brownsville (and former president of the Texas Criminal Defense Lawyers Association) replacing Tarrant County defense attorney Lance Evans. Tarrant County medical examiner Dr. Nizam Peerwani was reappointed and will serve as the commission's chairman.

It's a damn shame, as Grits for Breakfast points out, that the commission has been emasculated by the governor in his quest to prevent any public proclamations that the State of Texas murdered an innocent man when Cameron Willingham was put to death.

Unless the commission is allowed to reopen old cases to determine whether proper safeguards were taken to prevent people from being convicted on the basis of junk science, there is little purpose for the body. I understand Gov. Perry's reluctance to allow the commission to look into old cases because news of another innocent man sent to his death as a result of bad science would be the final blow to his sinking presidential campaign.

There is no doubt that there are men and women behind bars who were convicted on the basis of junk science that should never have seen the inside of a courtroom. That is something that should never be allowed to happen again. There are too many "experts" in pseudo-scientific pursuits who are allowed to sit in the witness chair and tell a jury why they should convict the person sitting next to the defense attorney. This needs to stop now.

A properly functioning commission can educate judges on what distinguishes good science from bad science.  But, in order to do so, the commission must be allowed to investigate old cases and non-accredited disciplines - after all, most of the junk science issues involve such "sciences" as bullet material analysis and tire track analysis.

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