A long-awaited review of old Texas arson cases — an unprecedented search for wrongful convictions based on bad fire investigation science — is picking up speed and will probably produce the first results in January, reports the Austin American-Statesman. One suspect case has been identified and about 26 others are being scrutinized for evidence that investigators relied on now-discredited “myths,” instead of science, to determine that the fires were intentionally set, said Nick Vilbas of the Innocence Project of Texas, which is leading the review.
A panel of fire experts, assembled by new Texas Fire Marshal Chris Connealy, is scheduled to hear details of the first batch of suspect cases in January. Their findings would help determine how each case should proceed in the criminal justice system. The review was prompted by a 2011 Texas Forensic Science Commission report saying that unreliable fire science played a role in Cameron Todd Willingham's conviction in the murder-by-arson deaths of his three young daughters in 1991. He was executed in 2004. The commission called for better training of fire investigators and a retroactive review of arson convictions, particularly those from before the early 1990s, when scientific studies began shattering many of the myths under which investigators had operated.