A blue-ribbon panel named after a wrongfully convicted inmate today begins a prolonged mission toward reforming criminal justice in Texas, fueled by a ballooning controversy over the possibility that the state may have executed an innocent man, the Ft. Worth Star-Telegram reports. The Tim Cole Advisory Panel on Wrongful Convictions will recommend new safeguards against erroneous convictions.
The panel's review parallels an uproar over the shakeup of a state commission seeking to determine whether a flawed arson investigation led to the 2004 execution of Cameron Todd Willingham, an unemployed mechanic. Cole was wrongfully convicted in 1986 and died in prison 13 years later before being posthumously exonerated this year. Willingham was found guilty in the deaths of his three daughters in a 1991 fire. Fire expert Craig Beyler, in a report prepared for the Texas Forensic Science Commission, denounced the investigation into the fire at the Willingham home and said it didn't “sustain” a finding of arson. The case touched off an uproar when Gov. Rick Perry dismissed three members of the commission, forcing cancellation of a meeting to hear the Beyler report.