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Questions about Todd Willingham execution won’t go away: Editorial Corpus Christi Caller-Times

By , October 4, 2009

Questions about 2004 execution won’t go away

Corpus Christi Caller-Times , Editorial

October 5, 2009

The disturbing question of whether Texas executed an innocent man, Cameron Todd Willingham, for a house fire in Corsicana that killed his three daughters was scheduled to be reviewed by a state board last Friday. Gov. Rick Perry abruptly removed three members of the panel, forcing a cancellation of this review. This came 48 hours before the Texas Forensic Science Commission planned to review the Willingham case.

There is much about this story that is disturbing. In an article headlined “Trial by Fire” by David Grann, a recent issue of The New Yorker examined in detail the investigation, prosecution and trial of Willingham, who was convicted of killing his three young daughters in a 1991 house fire caused, fire investigators said, by arson.

The arson investigators said they found classic signs of arson, including pour patterns and puddle configurations. They concluded that the fire was intentionally set and Willingham had set it. The evidence was analytical and circumstantial, based on forensic science.

As The New Yorker article relates, one of the nation’s leading fire investigators looked at the evidence used to convict Willingham and said the conclusions reached by arson investigators were based on folklore and discredited forensic evidence. In the trial, Willingham’s defense lawyers didn’t really mount a case; they called one witness, a former baby sitter, who said she didn’t think he could have done it, but they didn’t even try to counter the testimony of the arson investigators.

Before Willingham was executed, a known fire expert looked at the case, pro bono, and concluded that the arson investigators’ testimony was based on what he called discredited “junk science.” His report raising questions about Willingham’s guilt went to the clemency board and Gov. Perry, but it reportedly went unread and Willingham was put to death in 2004.

In 2005, the Texas Legislature established a commission to investigate error by forensic experts. Willingham’s was one of the first cases reviewed. In a scathing report, noted fire scientist Craig Beyler concluded that fire investigators had no scientific basis for claiming the Willingham fire was arson and they ignored evidence that contradicted their theory.

Beyler’s report was scheduled to be reviewed on Friday. The governor’s abrupt removal of three board members (whose terms were expired) led to the cancellation of that review. The timing of the governor’s action raises eyebrows, but draw your own conclusions.

The bottom line to this tragic story is that if Texas executed an innocent man, we need to know that. We need to know that to try to prevent it from happening again. Whatever the makeup of the Texas Forensic Science Commission, the disturbing question of whether Texas executed an innocent man will not go away.

4 Responses to “Questions about Todd Willingham execution won’t go away: Editorial Corpus Christi Caller-Times”

  1. Cheryl Freeman says:

    The last minute move to replace the members of the Commission and then appoint an old crony as Chairman has newspapers and the public throughout the US from coast to coast demanding the truth. The claims that the move Perry made were not politically motivated are an insult to people’s intelligence. If there was nothing to hide nor fear of what might be exposed by the Commission’s investigation regarding Willingham’s trial and execution, there would have been no need to deliberately remove members of the Commission and, thus, cause an indefinite delay in the Commission’s report of their findings.

    Mr. Willingham’s family and the public and true Justice for all others, who sit on death row, have the right to know if Mr. Willingham was executed by the State of Texas a truly guilty man or if the State of Texas has the blood on its hands of an innocent man.

  2. Lucy Frost says:

    The proven execution of an innocent person should mean the end of the death penalty in the United States.

    The truly guilty can spend life in prison. It actually costs taxpayers less than execution.

    The innocent — and there are many more than you might suspect because of the deterioration of our justice system — will have time to prove their cases. The state & society will be spared the shame of any possibility of executing the innocent.

    Look up Carlos De Luna and Ruben Cantu — two other cases in which men who were very likely innocent were executed in Texas. One of them was convicted in Corpus Christi.

    A petition regarding this case & its attendant issues is here — http://camerontoddwillingham.com/

  3. Roberto says:

    Good ridance to this cold blooded murderer. May the devil have a go at him in hell. He should have been burned at the stake like he did to his children.

  4. Rick Phillips says:

    He was truly guilty – evil on so many levels. Cannot believe some libtard from houston started this whole row. Cold blooded murder of his 3 children and a history of beating his wife and children – spread lighter fluid on the floor in the shape of a Satanic Star. Thank God he is with Satan now.

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