Archive for January, 2010
In 2004, Cameron Todd Willingham was convicted of murder and executed for the deaths of his three young children by arson at the family home in Texas. The case gained attention when an investigative report in The New Yorker ostensibly demonstrated that, contrary to the claims of the prosecution, there was no evidence that the house fire was intentionally set, and that the State of Texas executed an innocent man.
Some point to this case as another example of the problems associated with forensic science and an additional example of issues like those noted in the National Academy of Science report.
What is your opinion of this case and how does it inform the current debate in forensic science? Fire science is one of those areas of expertise typically found outside of public forensic labs. Like traffic investigation and blood stain pattern interpretation, these disciplines may be used with limited oversight. How might they be improved?
The present budget climate has hit forensic labs hard. In some regions, there is discussion about charging for what historically have been free services. Various payment models are being considered, from a per capita fee based on population or simply recovering actual costs to establishing hourly rates for different types of cases. The UK as well as other areas have used fee-for-service models for a number of years. Some contend that the practice works while others argue that it causes many unanticipated problems.
What is your view of the practice?