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Lawyer: Texas Arson Case Prosecutor Shows Bias

Cameron Todd Willingham (credit: AP Photo)

Cameron Todd Willingham (credit: AP Photo)

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AUSTIN (AP) -An Innocence Project attorney on Friday questioned the impartiality of a prosecutor leading a state science panel’s probe of an arson investigation that led to the execution of a Texas man.

Stephen Saloom, the policy director of the New York-based Innocence Project, said prosecutor John Bradley shows “a critically important lack of objectivity” in his approach to the Cameron Todd Willingham case. Bradley has publicly called Willingham a “guilty monster.”

Bradley is the chairman of the Texas Forensic Science Commission, which is investigating whether fire investigators committed professional misconduct in determining arson was the cause of a 1991 Corsicana house fire that killed Willingham’s three daughters. Willingham was convicted of capital murder in 1992 and executed in 2004.

At least nine fire experts have since said the fire was an accident, not arson.

Bradley’s comment “raises questions about the propriety of his leading the Commission’s work through this investigation, and perhaps its work as a whole,” Saloom said.

He urged the other commissioners, all but one of whom are scientists, not lawyers, to take “appropriate action.”

Saloom made his case against the Williamson County district attorney while sitting right next to him at a conference table.

Bradley dismissed Saloom’s statement as “New York lawyers” making “personal attacks rather than legal arguments.”

“I will continue to exercise the authority granted by the governor’s appointment and speak out proudly for the application of the rule of law rather than the political agenda pushed by anti-death penalty activists,” said Bradley, who was appointed to the chairmanship last year by Gov. Rick Perry. “Texans deserve to have a prosecutor’s voice included in the discussion of forensic science, a voice that can include concern for the victims of crime and not just the perpetrators of crime.”

On Thursday, two fire experts testified at a special court of inquiry hearing in Austin. The judge overseeing that hearing has the power to declare Willingham innocent. An Austin appeals court, however, granted an emergency stay that will prevent the judge from ruling for at least one week and could end the proceeding altogether.

If the judge clears Willingham, it would mark the first time an official in the nation’s most active death penalty state has formally declared that someone was wrongfully executed.

(© 2010 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)