All-Rick Perry Appointed Board Denies Posthumous Exoneration for Todd Willingham

By , April 3, 2014

PageLines- PerryWillinghamLogo.pngIn a development that should not surprise anyone, the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles, of which every single member was appointed by Governor Rick Perry, has voted not to recommend a posthumous full pardon for Cameron Todd Willingham, who was executed a decade ago after being convicted of setting a house fire that killed his three young daughters.

Rick Perry in 2009 thwarted the investigation into the Willingham case when he replaced the chair of the Texas Forensic Science Commission two days before it was to hear from the author of a scathing report in the case of Cameron Todd Willingham. Perry replaced the chair with John Bradley, whose mean-spirited, unethical behavior as chair of the Texas Forensic Science Commission lost him support in the Texas Senate for his confirmation as chair, although by the time he was replaced Bradley had done his job of delaying the investigation into the Willingham case while Perry was preparing to run for president.

More from the Texas Tribune:

“This whole process is, unfortunately, typical of this board, where they don’t demonstrate that they’ve actually considered the substantial evidence that we’ve put before them,” said Barry Scheck, co-founder of the Innocence Project, which has led the charge to clearn Willingham’s name in the case.

New Evidence Discredits Witness Against Todd Willingham

By , March 1, 2014

Citing New Evidence, Innocence Project Calls for Pardon

Updated, Feb. 28, 2014, 2:30 p.m.: 

Attorneys working on behalf of Cameron Todd Willingham, who was executed 10 years ago after he was convicted of setting a house fire that killed his three young daughters, say they have new evidence that suggests he was innocent.

Lawyers from the New York-based Innocence Project say a newly discovered note in the files of John Jackson, the prosecutor who oversaw his conviction, suggests that Jackson made a deal with a jailhouse informant, Johnny Webb, who testified against Willingham. At Jackson’s prompting, Webb told jurors during the trial that he received nothing in exchange for his testimony implicating the Willingham in the case.

Webb, then an inmate serving time for a first-degree robbery charge, said Willingham had confessed to him.

The note, scribbled within the district attorney’s file folder, said “based on coop in Willingham,” Webb was to receive a less severe second-degree classification, as opposed to the first-degree charge he was convicted on, according to the Innocence Project.

Jackson, who is now a state district judge, did not immediately return phone calls seeking comment.

Webb told a jury in the case that he had not received any incentive for his testimony. Jackson has said that he made no promises to Webb. He has called the Innocence Project’s claims a “complete fabrication” and said he remained certain of Willingham’s guilt.

The Innocence Project received Jackson’s file after the current district attorney, R. Lowell Thompson, released it. The note is not dated or signed.

The Innocence Project has sought a posthumous pardon for Willingham from the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles and Gov. Rick Perry. Evidence that Webb had received a deal for his testimony could have prompted the jury to decide differently about Willingham’s guilt, said lawyers working on his behalf.

Updated, 1:06 p.m.: 

Cameron Todd Willingham’s stepmother and cousin, along with exoneree Michael Morton, joined the Innocence Project on Friday to call on Gov. Rick Perry to order the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles to investigate whether the state should posthumously pardon Willingham, who was executed in 2004.

“We are forever passionately committed to the mission of clearing Cameron’s name,” said Patricia Cox, Willingham’s cousin.

Willingham was convicted in 1992 of intentionally igniting a blaze that killed his three daughters. Barry Scheck, co-founder of the Innocence Project, said the organization has uncovered new evidence that the prosecutor who tried Willingham paid favors to the jailhouse informant whose testimony — along with arson science that has since been debunked — was a key factor in the young father’s conviction. 

“We think it is very important for the governor himself to take a look at this,” Scheck said.

Morton, who was convicted of his wife’s murder in 1987 and spent nearly 25 years in prison before DNA testing led to his exoneration in 2011, appealed to Perry as a Christian to examine whether human errors led to a wrongful execution. 

“We’re here for one simple reason,” Morton said. “As believers, we’re asking him to consider this. We’re not asking for promises.”

Josh Havens, a spokesman for Perry, who has previously expressed his belief in Willingham’s guilt, said that the governor’s office had received the letter and was reviewing it.

State Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, said the Willingham case illustrates the need for reform in the state’s clemency system, because the process failed to identify several mistakes that could have prevented the execution.

Former Navarro County Judge John Jackson, the former prosecutor who tried Willingham, denied allegations of any prosecutorial misconduct in the case and said he remains convinced of Willingham’s guilt.

Terry Jacobson, who worked on the Willingham case as Corsicana’s city attorney, said allegations that Jackson acted inappropriately or extended benefits to a jailhouse informant were “baloney.”

“That’s just not the kind of guy he is,” Jacobson said. “It’s easy take pot shots at prosecutors these days.”

Original story:

Armed with what it says is new evidence of wrongdoing in the prosecution of Cameron Todd Willingham, the Innocence Project on Friday will ask Gov. Rick Perry to order the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles to investigate whether the state should posthumously pardon Willingham, whose 2004 execution has become a lightning rod of controversy over the Texas justice system.

“This is a terrible thing to not only execute somebody who was innocent; this is an individual who lost his three children,” said Barry Scheck, cofounder of the Innocence Project, a legal group that focuses on wrongful convictions.

The organization says it discovered evidence that indicated the prosecutor who tried Willingham had elicited false testimony from and lobbied for early parole for a jailhouse informant in the case.

The informant, Johnny Webb, told a Corsicana jury in 1992 that Willingham had confessed to setting the blaze that killed his three daughters. The Innocence Project also alleges that the prosecutor withheld Webb’s subsequent recantation. The organization argues that those points, combined with flawed fire science in the case, demand that the state correct and learn from the mistake it made by executing Willingham.

Former Judge John H. Jackson, the Navarro County prosecutor who tried Willingham, said the Innocence Project’s claims were a “complete fabrication” and that he remained certain of Willingham’s guilt.

“I’ve not lost any sleep over it,” Jackson said.

Willingham was convicted, largely on the testimony of a state fire marshal, who said Willingham had started the 1991 fire that killed his daughters.

Several fire scientists, though, have concluded that the science underpinning that conclusion was faulty. In April 2011, the Texas Forensic Science Commission agreed.

Now, Scheck said, his organization has discovered that prosecutors went to great lengths to secure false testimony from Webb, to repay him for helping secure the conviction and to hide the recantation.

During the trial, Webb, who was in jail on an aggravated robbery charge, said he was not promised anything in return for testifying. But correspondence records indicate that prosecutors later worked to reduce his time in prison.

In a 1996 letter, Jackson told prison officials Webb’s charge should be recorded as robbery, not aggravated robbery.

But in legal documents signed by Webb in 1992, he admitted to robbing a woman at knife point and agreed to the aggravated robbery charge.

In letters to the parole division in 1996, the prosecutor’s office also urged clemency for Webb, arguing that his 15-year sentence was excessive and that he was in danger from prison gang members because he had testified in the Willingham case.

In 2000, while he was incarcerated for another offense, Webb wrote a motion recanting his testimony, saying the prosecutor and other officials had forced him to lie.

That motion, Scheck said, was not seen by Willingham’s lawyers until after the execution. Meanwhile, he said, prosecutors used the testimony to stymie efforts to prove Willingham’s innocence and prevent his death.

An investigation is needed, Scheck said, to improve the judicial process.

Jackson said he made no promises to Webb. He also said Webb had sent him a letter explaining that the recantation motion was untruthful but that he was forced to submit it by prison gang members who supported Willingham.

“There’s no doubt the arson report was based on archaic science, but from a practical standpoint I think the result was absolutely correct,” Jackson said.

The Innocence Project has worked for years to exonerate Willingham, but Perry has argued that he was guilty.

Scott Henson, author of the criminal justice blog Grits for Breakfast, believes the current effort may be successful when a new governor takes office in 2015, he said.

Henson added, “Perry has made his position on the case pretty clear.”

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This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at http://www.texastribune.org/2014/02/28/citing-new-evidence-innocence-project-calls-pardon/.

With New Evidence, Calls for Pardon Increase

By , September 27, 2013
Poster of Todd Willingham at Texas Capitol October 24, 2009

Poster of Todd Willingham at Texas Capitol October 24, 2009

Citing New Evidence, Innocence Project Calls for Pardon
by Brandi Grissom, Texas Tribune

Updated, 1:06 p.m.:  

Cameron Todd Willingham’s stepmother and cousin, along with exoneree Michael Morton, joined the Innocence Project on Friday to call on Gov. Rick Perry to order the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles to investigate whether the state should posthumously pardon Willingham, whose was executed in 2004. 

“We are forever passionately committed to the mission of clearing Cameron’s name,” said Patricia Cox, Willingham’s cousin. 

Willingham was convicted in 1992 of intentionally igniting a blaze that killed his three daughters. Barry Scheck, co-founder of the Innocence Project, said the organization has uncovered new evidence that the prosecutor who tried Willingham paid favors to the jailhouse informant whose testimony — along with arson science that has since been debunked — was a key factor in the young father’s conviction.  

“We think it is very important for the governor himself to take a look at this,” Scheck said. 

Morton, who was convicted of his wife’s murder in 1987 and spent nearly 25 years in prison before DNA testing led to his exoneration in 2011, appealed to Perry as a Christian to examine whether human errors led to a wrongful execution.  

“We’re here for one simple reason,” Morton said. “As believers, we’re asking him to consider this. We’re not asking for promises.” 

Josh Havens, a spokesman for Perry, who has previously expressed his belief in Willingham’s guilt, said that the governor’s office had received the letter and was reviewing it. 

State Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, said the Willingham case illustrates the need for reform in the state’s clemency system, because the process failed to identify several mistakes that could have prevented the execution. 

Former Navarro County judge John Jackson, the former prosecutor who tried Willingham, denied allegations of any prosecutorial misconduct in the case and said he remains convinced of Willingham’s guilt. 

Terry Jacobson, who worked on the Willingham case as Corsicana’s city attorney, said allegations that Jackson acted inappropriately or extended benefits to a jailhouse informant were “baloney.” 

“That’s just not the kind of guy he is,” Jacobson said. “It’s easy take pot shots at prosecutors these days.” 

Original story: 

Armed with what it says is new evidence of wrongdoing in the prosecution of Cameron Todd Willingham, the Innocence Project on Friday will ask Gov. Rick Perry to order the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles to investigate whether the state should posthumously pardon Willingham, whose 2004 execution has become a lightning rod of controversy over the Texas justice system. 

“This is a terrible thing to not only execute somebody who was innocent; this is an individual who lost his three children,” said Barry Scheck, cofounder of the Innocence Project, a legal group that focuses on wrongful convictions. 

The organization says it discovered evidence that indicated the prosecutor who tried Willingham had elicited false testimony from and lobbied for early parole for a jailhouse informant in the case. 

The informant, Johnny Webb, told a Corsicana jury in 1992 that Willingham had confessed to setting the blaze that killed his three daughters. The Innocence Project also alleges that the prosecutor withheld Webb’s subsequent recantation. The organization argues that those points, combined with flawed fire science in the case, demand that the state correct and learn from the mistake it made by executing Willingham. 

Former Judge John H. Jackson, the Navarro County prosecutor who tried Willingham, said the Innocence Project’s claims were a “complete fabrication” and that he remained certain of Willingham’s guilt. 

“I’ve not lost any sleep over it,” Jackson said. 

Willingham was convicted, largely on the testimony of a state fire marshal, who said Willingham had started the 1991 fire that killed his daughters. 

Several fire scientists, though, have concluded that the science underpinning that conclusion was faulty. In April 2011, the Texas Forensic Science Commission agreed. 

Now, Scheck said, his organization has discovered that prosecutors went to great lengths to secure false testimony from Webb, to repay him for helping secure the conviction and to hide the recantation. 

During the trial, Webb, who was in jail on an aggravated robbery charge, said he was not promised anything in return for testifying. But correspondence records indicate that prosecutors later worked to reduce his time in prison. 

In a 1996 letter, Jackson told prison officials Webb’s charge should be recorded as robbery, not aggravated robbery. 

But in legal documents signed by Webb in 1992, he admitted to robbing a woman at knife point and agreed to the aggravated robbery charge. 

In letters to the parole division in 1996, the prosecutor’s office also urged clemency for Webb, arguing that his 15-year sentence was excessive and that he was in danger from prison gang members because he had testified in the Willingham case. 

In 2000, while he was incarcerated for another offense, Webb wrote a motion recanting his testimony, saying the prosecutor and other officials had forced him to lie. 

That motion, Scheck said, was not seen by Willingham’s lawyers until after the execution. Meanwhile, he said, prosecutors used the testimony to stymie efforts to prove Willingham’s innocence and prevent his death. 

An investigation is needed, Scheck said, to improve the judicial process. 

Jackson said he made no promises to Webb. He also said Webb had sent him a letter explaining that the recantation motion was untruthful but that he was forced to submit it by prison gang members who supported Willingham. 

“There’s no doubt the arson report was based on archaic science, but from a practical standpoint I think the result was absolutely correct,” Jackson said. 

The Innocence Project has worked for years to exonerate Willingham, but Perry has argued that he was guilty. 

Scott Henson, author of the criminal justice blog Grits for Breakfast, believes the current effort may be successful when a new governor takes office in 2015, he said. 

Henson added, “Perry has made his position on the case pretty clear.” 
 

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at http://www.texastribune.org/2013/09/27/citing-new-evidence-innocence-project-calls-pardon/.

Urge Rick Perry and the State of Texas to Pardon Todd Willingham

By , October 24, 2012

Support Todd Willingham’s family as they request a pardon for Todd. Call Texas Governor Perry to urge him to pardon Todd Willingham. Say something along the lines of “I’m calling to ask Governor Perry to posthumously pardon Cameron Todd Willingham. Todd was wrongfully executed–despite overwhelming evidence of his innocence–by Texas in 2004, and his final wish was that his name be cleared.”

Call Governor Perry: the number is 512-463-2000.

A petition to Texas Governor Rick Perry and to the State of Texas to acknowledge that the fire in the Cameron Todd Willingham case was not arson, therefore no crime was committed and on February 17, 2004, Texas wrongfully executed an innocent man.

13th Annual March to Abolish the Death Penalty Nov 3 Austin at Texas Capitol 2 PM

By , October 5, 2012

The 13th Annual March to Abolish the Death Penalty will be Saturday November 3, 2012 at 2 PM in Austin, Texas at the Capitol.

2012_MarchtoAbolishDeathPenaltyLayered

Texas Democratic Party Adopts Platform In Favor of Repealing the Death Penalty

By , June 29, 2012

After 12 years of organizing and lobbying by ordinary grassroots Democrats across the state as well as by exonerated former death row inmates, the Texas Democratic Party has adopted a platform that calls for repealing the death penalty in Texas. Thank you to all the Democrats across the state who worked so hard over the years for this moment to arrive and thank you especially to the delegates at the 2012 Texas Democratic Party State Convention for approving a platform calling for abolition of the death penalty!

Thank you especially today to death row exoneree Clarence Brandley and to Elizabeth Gilbert (a friend of Todd Willingham) who both spoke at Friday’s packed caucus meeting of “Democrats Against the Death Penalty”. We urged everyone at the meeting to elect platform committee members who would vote yes for abolition.

For the last 12 years Texas Moratorium Network has been urging the Texas Democratic Party to take a position against the death penalty and in favor of various criminal justice reforms that would improve the system, decrease wrongful convictions and eliminate the possibility of innocent people being executed. Starting in 2000, we have had a booth at every State Convention. In 2004, TMN developed the strategy of changing the platform through the Chair’s Advisory Committee on the Platform. In 2004, TMN’s Scott Cobb  was on the chair’s advisory committee and elected to the permanent platform committee  at the convention and wrote an entirely new section of the platform entitled “Capital Punishment” that for the first time ever included support for a stop to executions with a moratorium and a study commission.

In 2004, members of TMN also for the first time organized a caucus within the party to push for abolishing the death penalty – “Democrats Against the Death Penalty”. We have held a meeting of the caucus at each State Convention since 2004, when we had a team of about 30 volunteers at the convention collecting signatures on a petition for a death penalty moratorium in order to bring a resolution to the floor of the convention for a vote. We collected signatures from more than 30 percent of the delegates which was enough to bring the resolution for a moratorium to the floor for a vote where it was approved overwhelmingly. In 2006, we went back to hold another caucus meeting. In 2008, more than 300 people attended the meeting at the State Convention of “Democrats Against the Death Penalty”. In 2008, many people worked very hard and succeeded in getting the Resolutions Committee to approve a resolution in favor of abolishing the death penalty, but the convention adjourned before the abolition resolution received a vote on the floor of the convention.

In 2008, we proposed making further progress by adding language in favor of abolishing the death penalty at the Chair’s Advisory Committee on the Platform, but our proposal was rejected by the committee because the party was perceived to be not yet ready to take the position to end the death penalty. We met again at the 2010 convention in Corpus Christi when we brought death row exoneree Juan Melendez to speak to our caucus meeting and to the resolutions committee.

Today, we just returned from another State Convention where we again had a booth and a caucus meeting with about 130 attendees in a packed room. Before the convention, we sent an email to about 5,000 delegates and alternates urging them to support repeal of the death penalty. And we succeeded. Texas Democrats are now on record in support of repealing the death penalty.

“Democrats Against the Death Penalty” met 10-11 AM Friday, June 8, 2012 at the Texas Democratic Party State Convention in Room 370 ABC at the George R. Brown Convention Center.

Guest speakers included:

Clarence Brandley, an innocent man who spent ten years on Texas death row for a crime he did not commit.

Elizabeth Gilbert, who was a close friend of Todd Willingham, an innocent man executed by Texas. Elizabeth’s role in Todd’s fight to prove his innocence was told in the article in The New Yorker by David Grann “Trial by Fire”.

Elizabeth Gilbert and Clarence Brandley

 

Senator Rodney Ellis said in the most recent issue of Texas Monthly, “I’m convinced [Cameron Todd] Willingham was innocent”.

We sold a bunch of DVDs at the convention of the award-winning documentary “Incendiary: The Willingham Case” by Austin filmmakers Steve Mims and Joe Bailey Jr.

 

 

 

 

Keith Hampton

 

Keith Hampton dropped by and introduced himself to the crowd. He is running against Sharon Keller for the position of Presiding Judge on the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. She is the judge who said “we close at 5″ and refused to stay open to allow lawyers for a person about to be executed to submit an appeal.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Former Texas Court of Criminal Appeals Court Judge Morris Overstreet visiting the TMN booth. 

Thank you to our volunteers at the booth, Jamie Bush, Scott Cobb, Hooman Hedayati, Gloria Rubac, Angie Agapetus, Lee Greenwood, Delia Perez Meyer and Joanne Gavin.

Senator Rodney Ellis: “I’m convinced [Cameron Todd] Willingham was innocent.”

By , May 24, 2012

Poster of Todd Willingham at Texas Capitol October 24, 2009

Senator Rodney Ellis says in a Texas Monthly roundtable discussion, “I’m convinced [Cameron Todd] Willingham was innocent.”

Yet, Senator Ellis won’t push for a moratorium on executions. That does not make sense. If the Texas Legislature had enacted a moratorium in 2001 or 2003 (as we asked them to), it is highly likely that Todd Willingham would not have been executed in 2004 and he would have had more time to prove his innocence.

More from the Texas Monthly roundtable with Art Acevedo chief of the Austin Police Department since 2007; Rodney Ellis who was elected to the state Senate in 1990; Anthony Graves who was wrongfully convicted in 1992 and released from jail in 2010; Barbara Hervey a judge on the Court of Criminal Appeals and the chair of the court’s fourteen-member Texas Criminal Justice Integrity Unit. She lives in San Antonio; Kelly Siegler a special prosecutor; Craig Watkins the DA of Dallas County and a former defense attorney and Jake Silverstein, editor of TEXAS MONTHLY.

Silverstein: I want to talk about capital punishment. District Attorney Watkins, it’s something that you are morally opposed to, but in your capacity as district attorney in Dallas County, it’s something you’ve had to seek in some cases. Are you going to push for there to be a moratorium on the death penalty?

Watkins: I don’t think from my little seat as DA in Dallas County, which is one of 254 counties, that I have a voice to say there should be a moratorium. I can tell you how we do it in Dallas. We have a death penalty review team that looks at everything before we make a determination. It’s not just me making the decision. We have people with different views, and it’s majority rule. When we pursue it, guilt or innocence is not the issue. It’s pretty much, a guy’s confessed.

Ellis: I’ve presided over three executions. On the first day I was acting governor, as president pro tem of the Senate, an execution had been scheduled. I read the file. They had changed the pleadings to make the case to me: “Senator Ellis, you’ve been a civil rights leader; the death penalty has a disproportionate impact on people of color.” It was a direct appeal to me, and I remember thinking that when I took the oath to be president pro tem of the Senate, I swore to enforce the laws of the state of Texas. Not just the ones I like. So I read the file, I got on the line, and I said the state would proceed. But I do think there’s a distinct possibility the state of Texas has executed an innocent person.

Graves: Too many. You can’t tell me that I’m wrong. You tried to kill me twice. For something I knew nothing about.

Ellis: I’m convinced [Cameron Todd] Willingham was innocent.

Watkins: But you’ve got to get away from the morality of it, because people have different morals. It’s got to be logistics. Do we have things in place to make sure we don’t get it wrong? That’s a legitimate question.

Siegler: Yes—yes, we do. Checks and balances are in place. It’s the human beings involved that are the problem. You know, it’s another discussion if the people of Texas don’t want the death penalty. If they don’t, fine. But right now, that’s the law.

Ellis: But obviously all of us at this table have the ability to influence the law.

Siegler: Not that law.

Ellis: No, we do. If prosecutors were to say, “Hey, there are enough questions out here, there’s human error, we all make mistakes.”

Graves: Come on! To me, it’s an insult that you almost killed me and you’re still not even talking about a moratorium to find out what went wrong. You ask my mother about that. Ask my mom.

Ellis: I would say this: as a politician, as a policy maker, I wouldn’t put myself in a position where I would minimize my ability to enact meaningful reforms just to try to pass a moratorium bill. Whenever I carry these reforms, my colleagues come over to me and say, “You’re just against the death penalty. That’s your problem.” And I can look them in the eye and say, “I’ve presided over three executions. By what right do you say to me that I’m against the death penalty? I’ve done it. I’ll go to my maker. I did it. I could’ve given the thirty-day reprieve, but I didn’t.” I just don’t want the debate. I don’t want to minimize anybody’s ability to pass meaningful reforms. In a very conservative state, we’ve made some pretty significant advances.

Siegler: So you’re saying you don’t want to waste your time with a moratorium.

Ellis: Yeah, I don’t want to minimize my ability to pass other stuff.

Graves: I’ve experienced it! And I’m listening to the politics of it. And I’m like, we’re not getting to the real issue. We’re skirting around the real issue. We’re sitting up here discussing the narratives; we’re not discussing the issue.

Ellis: I think exonerations and the reforms that we have put in place over the years collectively make it more difficult to get an execution. When I put a spotlight on imperfections in the system, it’s harder for a prosecutor to get an execution. I hope these reforms that I’ve advocated—some of which we have passed—I hope they’ve made it more difficult. Because I’m convinced somebody’s going to look back at us in 25 years and ask, “What the hell were they doing?” Most of [the wrongly convicted] are poor, most of them are black.

Graves: And mentally retarded, losing their minds.

Watkins: Let me ask you this [to Graves]: When I was campaigning for DA, I ran somewhat on the issue of innocence. So when I got elected, I had to prove the thesis. So now here you are, you’ve been exonerated. And you were on death row, and you have a voice—you’re in a position where people will listen to what you say. And you’re saying that we should get away from capital punishment in Texas because we could make a mistake? Prove it.

Hall: How can you prove somebody 
innocent?

Graves: Here’s the proof. You tried to kill me twice.

Watkins: Yeah, but you’re one.

Graves: But one is one too many, ’cause my mother would have never gotten me back had you killed me. I understand exactly what you’re saying. You’re being real about our whole system and that you really have to go out there and prove it to change the mentality about it all. And I understand that, but if I have to go and prove it, that means we’ve got a bigger problem.

Acevedo: Let me tell you, you’re a better person than me—you’re a better man than I am. If I were you, I couldn’t be sitting at this table.

Graves: I have to be at this table.

Hervey: We could never apologize to you enough for what’s happened, but hopefully you know that we’re trying to make a difference.

Graves: Yes, ma’am, I surely believe that.

Acevedo: What you need to understand is that one Anthony at a time, we build a case. Every single one that we identify is one step closer to tipping the scales of justice. We’re here right now. We’re a few more egregious cases away from people finally taking a step back and saying enough is enough.

Text of Order Exonerating Todd Willingham Written by Judge Charlie Baird

By , May 19, 2012

In 2010, Judge Charlie Baird wrote an order that would have exonerated Todd Willingham. As the Huffington Post reported, “Baird’s order clearing Willingham’s name never became official, because a higher court halted the posthumous inquiry while it considered whether the judge had authority to examine the capital case.”

While waiting for permission to finish the case from the Third Court of Appeals, Baird put together the document that “orders the exoneration of Cameron Todd Willingham for murdering his three daughters,” because of “overwhelming, credible and reliable evidence” presented during a one-day hearing in Austin in October 2010.Charlie Baird is currently running for Travis County District Attorney and watch him boldly transform the criminal justice system.

“This Court orders the exoneration of Cameron Todd Willingham for murdering his threedaughters. In light of the overwhelming, credible, and reliable evidence presented by the Petitioners, this Court holds that the State of Texas wrongfully executed Cameron ToddWillingham.”

Order Exonerating Todd Willingham

Willingham Inquiry Ends at Forensic Science Commission: Innocence Claims Bolstered by Invalid Science Finding

By , October 29, 2011

Willingham inquiry ends, but effects linger
By Chuck Lindell

AUSTIN AMERICAN-STATESMAN STAFF
Friday, Oct. 28, 2011

A state investigation into the science used to convict and execute Cameron Todd Willingham came to a quiet close Friday, but its results might echo across the justice system and the nation’s death penalty debate for years to come.

Making final changes to its report on the Willingham case, the Texas Forensic Science Commission signed off on a document acknowledging that unreliable fire science played a role in the Corsicana man’s conviction for the murder-by-arson deaths of his three young daughters in 1991. He was executed in 2004.

Following commonly held beliefs now known to be wrong, arson investigators testified that the Willingham house fire was intentionally set using a liquid accelerant, the commission concluded.

Modern fire experts working for the commission and for the New York-based Innocence Project, which is representing Willingham posthumously, have determined that none of the more than 20 “arson indicators” identified by fire investigators in 1991 are reliable evidence of accelerant use. The cause of the fire should have been “undetermined,” the experts said.

Though the commission’s inquiry was never intended to weigh Willingham’s guilt or innocence, the findings have added fuel to the debate over capital punishment.

“The world should now know that the evidence relied upon to convict and execute Cameron Todd Willingham for the fire that killed his daughters was based on scientifically invalid and unreliable evidence,” said Stephen Saloom , policy director for the Innocence Project. “By any fair estimate, that indicates he was innocent, that he did not set that fire.”

Willingham’s prosecutors — and even his trial lawyer — still maintain he was guilty, pointing to a jailhouse informant who said Willingham confessed and to witnesses who said he did not appear to be distraught during or after the fire.

The science commission’s work also might have a long-term effect on the justice system.

The agency’s final report includes a commitment from the state fire marshal’s office — whose investigator was the chief prosecution witness at Willingham’s trial — to review old arson rulings to determine whether convictions were based on now-debunked assumptions.

The Innocence Project of Texas will provide most of the heavy lifting — about 40 forensic science and law students — to help the fire marshal identify and review old arson cases, said Jeff Blackburn, chief lawyer for the Texas nonprofit legal organization.

“I think this is a great opportunity,” Blackburn said during Friday’s commission meeting in Austin. “As far as I know, this is the only example of this kind of cooperation going on anywhere in the country.”

Saloom commended the commission for acknowledging that the scientific understanding of fire behavior has vastly improved over the past 20 years — and for listing now-debunked arson indicators in its final report. That action might ensure that unreliable science no longer taints arson investigations in Texas and could serve as a model for other states grappling with the issue, Saloom said.

Dr. Nizam Peerwani , the commission chairman, said it is important to understand that science is an ever-changing process.

Accredited crime labs, when presented with evidence that a result was invalid or mistaken, have a duty to inform prosecutors and judges. The commission’s findings are designed to lead fire investigators to adopt similar standards, he said.

Perry/Willingham 2012 Signs Popping Up

By , October 19, 2011

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