Texas to Review Arson Convictions

How many innocent persons have been convicted of arson on now-discredited forensic arson theory? Texas may provide an indication. As reported earlier today by Mark Godsey here and in the Star-Telegram here, the Texas Forensic Science Commission has asked the Texas Innocence Project (TIP) to work with the State Fire Marshall’s Office to identify potential wrongful convictions that relied on debunked arson theory. Jeff Blackburn, chief counsel for the TIP is estimating that by spring of 2013, 10-15 cases will be identified for close examination. A panel of science fire experts will be assembled to conduct the case reviews. Blackburn expressed confidence in having the support of Chris Conneally, former Houston Fire Chief, who was appointed the new state fire marshall in May.

The review comes after years of controversy preceding and following the execution of Todd Willingham after his arson conviction for the 1991 fire that killed his three daughters. Some forensic scientists concluded just before his execution that there was no evidence that the fire was intentionally set.

The Innocence Project asked the Forensic Science Commission to review the methods used by the State Fire Marshall’s Office that led to Willingham’s conviction after the heated, politically charged debate over whether or not he had been wrongfully executed. Last year the Commission reported that the science used to convict Willingham was indeed flawed and recommended a review of the more than 1,000 more recent Texas arson convictions.

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